China orders investigation of deadly highway fuel tanker blast

Kinling Lo

China’s State Council – the country’s cabinet – has ordered an investigation into a highway fuel tanker explosion that killed 20 people.

The tanker transporting liquefied natural gas caught fire on the Shenyang-Haikou Expressway south of Shanghai near Wenling, a small coastal city in the eastern province of Zhejiang, and exploded at around 4.40pm on Saturday, according to police. The force of the blast blew the vehicle’s chassis onto a nearby factory and its cab more than 100 metres away from the explosion site.

In all, 172 people were injured in the blast, including 24 in a critical condition, Shanghai-based news site The Paper reported.

State broadcaster CCTV reported that most of the injured sustained burns, blast wounds and head injuries. The oldest person injured was 94 years old.

Around 200 nearby homes were destroyed, The Beijing News reported.

Wenling deputy mayor Zhu Minglian said on Sunday that the cause of the explosion was under investigation and the dead were still being identified. The search for the missing was also continuing.

The Wenling city government information office said on its social media account that houses and workshops had collapsed and 189 people had been treated at six hospitals.

A worker at a nearby restaurant told the official Xinhua news service that the blast shattered the windows of her home, but that her mother and brother were unharmed.

Rescuers work at the site of a tank truck blast in Wenling, Zhejiang province, early Sunday morning. Photo: Xinhua

CCTV footage showed collapsed buildings, shattered windows, and clouds of dark smoke rising from the area.

On Saturday night, the provincial government sent in workers with heavy equipment, including excavators, to help in the rescue efforts. A total of 2,662 rescue workers were deployed, the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis News reported.

Rescuers use heavy equipment to sift through the aftermath of the fuel tanker blast. Photo: Xinhua

The CCTV report said Ruian Transport, the owner of the tanker, was fined a total of 14,100 yuan by transport authorities between 2016 and 2018.

Four of the 10 incidents for which it was fined were for “not performing regular checks” of its vehicles.

Between 2014 and 2019, the company was also involved in four legal disputes of “motor-vehicle related traffic accidents”, CCTV reported.

The explosion is the deadliest incident in the country in several months and comes as China struggles to get back to normal after months of lockdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The government commission responsible for safety production called for the investigation be completed within a certain time, state media reported, without specifying the period. The report said the commission called for traffic police to step up law enforcement focusing on vehicles such as those carrying dangerous chemicals.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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