BEIJING — At least 19 people have been killed and a dozen injured after a chemical plant exploded in southwest China, engulfing the plant in flames and throwing a thick plume of smoke into the sky.
The explosion erupted in an industrial park in Jiangan County, Sichuan Province, at about 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, the China News Service reported. Intense fires gutted a new-looking, three-story production building belonging to the Yibin Hengda Science and Technology Company, and windows of nearby buildings were shattered, a Sichuan news service said.
“I heard an enormous explosion, enormous, and felt tremors,” Liu Ping, an official in charge of the industrial park, told a Chinese news website. “We’re now checking DNA to confirm the list of fatalities.”
China’s grim record of accidents in factories and mines has improved in recent years, according to government statistics. They showed that 38,000 people died in work-related accidents last year, a fall of 12 percent from 2016.
But the deaths in Jiangan County were harsh evidence that workers in China’s vast industrial sector are still prey to great dangers, even in relatively new plants.
A witness described hearing one huge explosion, followed by seven or so smaller ones, the Southern Metropolitan Daily, a Chinese newspaper, reported. Firefighters said the accident appeared to have been fueled by methanol, but government investigators said on Friday that they were still seeking the cause of the explosion.
The Yibin Hengda company was established in 2015, and is a major shareholder is SynFarm Pharmaceutical Technology, a company based in Shanghai, registration records show.
In 2016, Yibin Hengda won environmental inspectors’ approval to build plants in Jiangan County that could produce 2,300 metric tons of chemicals a year. It was unclear whether any of these were involved in the explosion. But the building had been in use for less than two months, said The Beijing News, citing a worker near the plant.
This explosion was far from the worst to strike Chinese factories in recent years. In 2014, an explosion in a metal-products factory in eastern China killed at least 68 people. In 2015, explosions caused by improperly stored chemicals killed 165 people in Tianjin, a northern port city.
Katrina Northrop contributed research.