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Nearly 50 Dead in Explosion at Chinese Chemical Plant

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Aerial view of the explosion site of a chemical factory on March 22 in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province of China. Caixin Media / VCG / Getty Images)

At least 47 people have died in an explosion at a plant in Yancheng, China Thursday run by a chemical company with a history of environmental violations, Sky News reported.


The blast forced more than 3,000 people to evacuate the area, AFP reported. More than 600 are injured and 90 are in the hospital with serious injuries following one of the country's worst industrial disasters in recent years. The blast from the explosion was so strong that it caused a minor earthquake and felled nearby factory buildings, trapping workers. It also blew out windows in houses around three miles away, according to Sky.

A 60-year-old woman with the last name Xiang told AFP that she had long been worried about the safety of the plant.

"We knew we'd be blown up one day," she said.


The blast caused fires to ignite in the industrial park where the plant was located, but firefighters said they had extinguished the flames by Friday. Hundreds of rescue workers had been sent to the area, according to local authorities.

However, residents in the surrounding area, many of them elderly, said they had not received any help from the government. Some had abandoned their homes and others were sweeping up the glass from broken windows themselves.

The plant where the explosion occurred was run by the Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical company, which produces more than 30 organic chemical compounds, according to Sky. In February of last year, China's State Administration for Work Safety found 13 safety hazards at the company, including improper handling of benzene, the chemical that caused Thursday's explosion. In total, the company had amassed 1,790,000 RMB (approximately $266,440) in fines since 2016 because of environmental violations.

The cause of Thursday's explosion is not yet known. Chinese President Xi Jinping, currently on a state visit to Italy, urged for "all-out efforts" to rescue those still trapped in collapsed buildings and for the cause of the incident be determined "as early as possible," AFP reported in a later article. Local authorities looking into the explosion said an undetermined number of people had been taken into custody on Friday.

Nearby residents are now concerned about the spread of pollution following the accident.

"We don't have drinkable water here," Xiang told AFP. "Why hasn't the government sent us some water?"

However, local environmental agencies said that they had set up monitors around the industrial park where the accident took place, and said that strong winds looked likely to flush out toxins in the air, CNN reported.

China has suffered a spate of industrial and mining disasters in its recent history, partly because of weak safety enforcement, BBC News reported. The largest in the last few years was a 2015 explosion in Tianjin that killed more than 160 and injured almost 1,000.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.