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September 26, 2017

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Search for missing firefighters continues

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Rescuers continued their search for two missing firefighters at the site of massive gas explosions that rocked Kaohsiung two days ago as the death toll climbed to 28 yesterday.

Rescuers could only guess where the missing firefighters — Lin Chi-che, secretary general of the city's fire department, and Liu Yai-wen, a division chief — may be buried, as the only clue available was surveillance camera footage that captured images of the pair shortly before the explosions.

Digging in the area yielded no discoveries as of press time. Four firefighters have been confirmed dead.

Liu's family was at the scene praying that he is found soon.

"Yao-wen, please reveal yourself," a family member was heard saying.

While the firefighters remained missing, the body of a man was discovered under rubble elsewhere, increasing the death toll to 28 in the deadliest ever gas explosion in Taiwan. Another 284 people were injured, many seriously.

Rescue efforts were hampered by heavy rains in the morning, but rescuers continued to dig through the rubble, refusing to give up hope that there could still be survivors.

Search efforts were concentrated on the worst-hit areas around Kaixuan Third Road, Ersheng Road and Sandou Second Road. Excavators were busy digging through the rubble, while rescuers, including hundreds of military troops, also dug with spades and hands.

They also searched through damaged and abandoned buildings for possible victims.

The latest victim found was identified as a 75-year-old man, Lin Yu-ching, who is believed to have been riding his motorcycle on his way home when he was killed by the explosions at Sandou Second Road. His motorcycle was also found at the scene.

A man who helped rescue an injured person at the very site where Lin's body was found expressed regret that he had failed to notice that someone else was also there.

Some charred animal tissue and bones were found elsewhere during the search for survivors. But forensics personnel said they were probably not human parts after a preliminary examination.

"I would love to buy him many things, but I can't now," said a man, whose father died in the blasts, as the family held a traditional ritual praying for the dead.

Families of other victims also held similar rituals at sites where the bodies had been found.

President Ma Ying-jeou traveled to Kaohsiung to visit affected families and the injured.

He said an investigation is already underway into the cause of the accident.

He said underground pipelines are an unavoidable part of modern cities, but better management must be employed to minimize risks.

"I will demand that the administration show its utmost determination to prevent a repeat of such incidents," said Ma following a briefing by Kaohsiung officials on the blasts.

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