The police on Friday detained personnel from a chemical plant in eastern China after an explosion killed at least 64 people, setting off an inferno that firefighters battled through the night and raising fears of toxic substances spreading in the air and water.
The blast Thursday afternoon at Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Company, on the outskirts of the city of Yancheng in Jiangsu Province, was believed to have caused a tremor equivalent to a magnitude-2.2 earthquake, the China Earthquake Administration said.
The explosion seriously injured 94 people, including the general manager of the plant, Zhang Qinyue. An undisclosed number of other company employees were detained after the blast, Yancheng officials said on Friday.
The cause of the blast has not been confirmed, but one worker said a tanker truck carrying natural gas had caught fire, setting off an explosion in a benzene storage area, according to a report from Caixin, a Chinese business news outlet.
More than 900 emergency personnel responded to the blast, and fires in three storage tanks and five other sites were all extinguished by 7 a.m. Friday, officials said.
The plant, which was established in 2007 in Xiangshui County, mainly produces pesticides, according to online listings. An inspection last year by the State Administration of Work Safety found 13 safety problems, including extensive leaks, a lack of safety training, “poor site management” and a shortage of operating procedures and technical specifications posted in the benzene tank area.
About 4,000 workers and residents were forced to evacuate after the blast, officials said.
The explosion, which happened shortly before 3 p.m., startled one resident from his afternoon nap. The man, who only gave his surname, Chen, lives about six miles from the plant. He said the road outside his door was soon filled with injured people.
“Glass doors and windows have all been shaken out and the poorer houses are so damaged they are uninhabitable,” he said. “The old people and children in my family have all been cut by glass shards.”