At least 24 dead, 271 hurt in Taiwan gas explosions

The death toll is rising in Taiwan in a series of explosions triggered by underground gas leaks in the southern city of Kaohsiung, according to state-run news agency CNA.

At least 24 people were killed and another 271 injured when the powerful blasts ripped through the city’s sewage system early Friday. Firefighters from neighboring cities rushed to Kaohsiung to help battle the flames, CNA reported.

Among the dead were four firefighters. Another 22 emergency workers were also injured. A senior fire official said an unknown number of people were missing.

Authorities investigated reports of an apparent gas leak in the hours before a series of explosions rocked the city’s Cianjhen district.

Fires blazed through the night, but had mostly been contained by Friday morning.

As daylight broke the extent of the damage became clear, with wrecked cars and motorcycles strewn across the cratered streets.

The blasts were powerful. A private car was found on the roof of a three-story building. Two people were blown to the top of a four-story building where emergency workers found them and took them to the hospital.

Schools and offices in the Cianjhen district, as well as the neighboring Lingya District, were closed on Friday to facilitate rescue efforts, Mayor Chen Chu told reporters. Several schools and a cultural center are being used as emergency shelters.

Authorities suspect ethylene, propane or butane in the explosions. There are several petrochemical factories in the region.

The government called up hundreds of soldiers to assist in search and rescue efforts.

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