KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan (AP) — Hundreds of people who fled from gas pipeline explosions in Taiwan's second-largest city returned to their homes Friday after authorities said there was no more risk of blasts like the series that ripped apart streets overnight, killing 26 people and injuring 267.
With clean-up work underway in the 2-square kilometer (1-square mile) area, investigators were turning to the task of determining the cause of the blasts, the industrial city's worst such disaster in 16 years.
Most of the four ruptured street sections in the densely populated district of Kaohsiung were declared safe from further explosions by afternoon, a city spokesman said. A fire in a 10-meter (yard) -long section that burned through the night had also been put out.
Five explosions ripped through four streets starting around midnight Thursday, catapulting cars into the air and blasting cement rubble at passers-by, many of whom were out late at a nearby night market.
That came about three hours after a gas leak had been reported on Kaixuan Road, but emergency services had been unable to locate the source.
Four firefighters were among the victims and two were missing, while at least six fire trucks were flung into the rubble. The blasts sent flames shooting into the sky and left broad, meter-deep (yard-deep) trenches down the middle of roads.
Many of the injured were still receiving medical treatment. The disaster was Taiwan's second in as many weeks following the crash of a TransAsia Airways prop jet on the island of Penghu on July 23 that killed 48 people and injured 10.
"Last night around midnight, the house started shaking and I thought it was a huge earthquake, but when I opened the door, I saw white smoke all over and smelled gas," said Chen Qing-tao, 38, who lives a short distance from the devastation.
The explosions were believed caused by leaking propene, a petrochemical material not intended for public use, said Chang Jia-juch, director of the Central Disaster Emergency Operation Center.
Propene is mainly used for making the plastic polypropylene used in a wide variety of packaging, caps and films. It can be detected by its mildly unpleasant smell.
The city's Environmental Protection Bureau director told Taiwan's Central News Agency that propene was leaking from the gas pipes that exploded. It originated from a warehouse used by China General Terminal & Distribution Corp., which stores and transports petrochemical raw materials, Director Chen Chin-der told the news agency.
Industrial-use pipelines run through Kaohsiung's residential neighborhoods because industry preceded the construction of houses, said city spokesman Ting Yun-kung. The port city contains much of Taiwan's heavy industry, especially petrochemicals.
Video from broadcasters showed residents searching for victims overnight in shattered storefronts and rescuers placing injured people on stretchers. Numerous fires sent smoke pouring into the night sky above the Chian-Chen district, where factories operate near low-rise residential buildings.
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