Taiwan explosions: 20 dead and at least 200 injured in gas blasts

Five firefighters were among the dead

20 people have been killed and 270 others injured following a series of gas explosions which shook the streets of a city in southern Taiwan.

At least five explosions took place in the 2.8million-strong city of Kaohsiung early on Friday morning, Taiwan's Premier Jiang Yi-huah said.

Five firefighters were killed in the blasts thought to have been caused by ruptured gas pipelines, the National Fire Agency said.

"The local fire department received calls of gas leaks late Thursday and then there was a series of blasts around midnight affecting an area of two to three sq km [one sq mile]," the fire agency added in a statement according to BBC News.

The source of the leak had not yet been located, but Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu said several petrochemical companies had pipelines built along the sewage system in Chian-Chen district, which has both factories and residential buildings.

"Our priority is to save people now. We ask citizens living along the pipelines to evacuate," Mr Chen told TVBS television.

Attempts by fire crews to find people buried in the rubble were hindered when electricity was cut off in the area. One rescue effort saw a team form a chain to pull the injured from a deep crater cut into the road.

Hundreds of soldiers, and firefighters from neighbouring Tainan City and Pingtung County, were sent to help at the scene, Mr Jiang added.

Footage from the scene shot by the Taiwanese broadcaster ETTV shows plumes of smoke rising from a huge fire burning in the middle of a street, where a motorcycle and other debris have been flung across the middle.

Mobile phone video captured the sound of a secondary explosion as flames leapt at least 30 feet (9 meters) into the air.

The force of the initial blast also felled trees lining the street. Local TVBS showed cars flipped over and shattered windows.

Prior to the incident, smoke with a "gas-like smell" was seen rising from drains in the streets, Formosa TV and the China Times newspaper said.

Residents said it felt as if the city had been hit by a powerful earthquake, according to media reports.

Additional reporting by AP

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