August 27, 2008

Death Toll Rises to 18 in South China Chemical Plant Blast

Text of report in English by official Chinese news agency Xinhua (New China News Agency)

[Xinhua: "Death Toll Rises To 18 in South China Chemical Plant Blast"]

YIZHOU, Guangxi, Aug. 27 (Xinhua) - Rescuers on Wednesday found two more bodies amid the debris from Tuesday's explosion at a chemical plant in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, bringing the death toll to 18.

Two of the dead have yet to be identified. The other 16 have been identified as plant workers, according to the rescue headquarters.

The known fatalities account for 18 of the 20 people listed as missing by the plant owner. Firefighters are still searching for others who might be missing.

An explosion ripped through an organic compound workshop inside the plant, owned by Guangxi Guangwei Chemical Co., at 6 a.m. on Tuesday. The cause of the explosion still hasn't been determined.

The blast caused additional explosions in containers of flammable substances such as formaldehyde and acetylene.

A tally compiled as of 11 a.m. on Wednesday showed that 60 people were injured and hospitalized, with 10 discharged so far. Five of these people were residents of a nearby village or riders in motor vehicles that were passing the factory. The injured mostly suffered burns and fractures.

The explosions persisted until almost 1 p.m. on Tuesday. The fire at one point covered 10,000 sq m, said a firefighter who took part in the rescue operation. The blaze was put out on Tuesday evening.

About 11,500 people living within 3 km of the plant were evacuated.

The regional Department of Environmental Protection said that samples taken after the explosion showed no contamination.

More than 100 chemical emergency specialists were sent to the site to assess the situation, and regional work safety authorities began an investigation.

The plant mainly produces polyvinyl acetate (PVA), which is used in adhesives, calcium carbide, and vinyl acetate monomer (VAM), which is used in paints, adhesives and coatings.

The plant is in a development zone of Yizhou City, a four-hour drive from the regional capital of Nanning.

With assets of 340 million yuan (50 million US dollars), the plant manufactures products worth about 300 million yuan a year, and its largest shareholders are state-owned companies.

Originally published by Xinhua news agency, Beijing, in English 0818 27 Aug 08.

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