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June 29, 2017

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Gas blasts kill 24, injure 271 in Taiwanese port

The series of explosions about midnight Thursday and early Friday struck a densely populated district where several petrochemical companies operate pipelines alongside the sewer system in Kaohsiung, a southwestern port with 2.8 million people.

Firefighters called to the neighborhood to investigate a gas leak were among the victims when the blasts went off several hours later, upending at least five red fire trucks amid the rubble of pavement and dirt.

Four firefighters were among the 24 dead, and 271 people were injured, the National Fire Agency said. The death toll could rise, because many of the seriously injured were still being treated, officials said.

"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 10 buildings away from the main explosion site.

The fires were believed caused by a leak of propene, a petrochemical material not intended for public use, but the cause and source of the leak were not immediately clear, officials said.

The exploded gas line belongs to government-owned CPC Corp., which told The Associated Press it showed no signs of problems before the explosions. CPC officials at the scene Friday declined to offer information about reasons for the blasts.

Video from the TVBS broadcaster showed residents searching for victims in shattered storefronts and rescuers pulling injured people from the rubble of a road and placing them on stretchers while passersby helped other victims on a sidewalk. Broadcaster ETTV showed rows of large fires sending smoke into the night sky.

At least five blasts shook the city, Taiwan's Premier Jiang Yi-huah said.

Chang Jia-juch, the director of the Central Disaster Emergency Operation Center, said the leaking gas was most likely to be propene. One of the fires, along a 10-meter stretch of gas line, is still on fire, the National Fire Agency says on its website.

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