Hong Kong (AFP) – China’s president ordered a national safety campaign Thursday after a massive cooking gas explosion at a barbecue restaurant in the northwest killed 31 people and injured seven others on the eve of a long weekend.
The explosion occurred at the restaurant at around 8:40 p.m. Wednesday on a busy street in Yinchuan, capital of the Ningxia Muslim Autonomous Region, where people gathered ahead of the Dragon Boat Festival.The official Xinhua news agency said.
The online news site The Paper reported, quoting a member of the search and rescue team, that the explosion left many people unconscious and they needed to be removed from the shop. It added that among the victims were the elderly and high school students.
An hour before the explosion, the staff noticed the smell of cooking gas and discovered the gas tank valve was broken, according to Xinhua. The explosion occurred while an employee was changing the valve.
Chinese President Xi Jinping called for urgent medical care for the injured and a comprehensive reform of the safety of the injured Xinhua said after the explosion. He urged efforts to quickly determine the cause of the accident and hold people accountable under the law.
Xi also said that all relevant regions and departments should address “all kinds of hidden dangers and dangers” and launch campaigns to promote workplace safety.
At a press conference on Thursday, the vice party chief of Yinchuan apologized to all the people in the city, according to news site Huanqiu.com. Before the start of the press conference, the participants bowed their heads in silence.
The authorities arrested nine people, including the owner of the restaurant, shareholders and employees. Their assets have also been frozen, according to Xinhua.
The newspaper said the explosion occurred at an outlet of Fuyang BBQ Restaurant, a chain of restaurants in Yinchuan famous for its grilled skewers and fried dishes. The two-story restaurant seats 20 people on the ground floor and offers private dining rooms on the second floor where customers can also sing karaoke.
A video on the social media platform Douyin showed rescuers on ladders trying to reach the victims on the second floor. People who appeared to be slightly injured were waiting for help at the side of the road. Other videos showed at least six fire engines at the scene and some onlookers crying.
A staff member of the emergency clinic at the General Hospital of Ningxia Medical University confirmed that some victims were being treated there, but declined to give further information.
The newspaper quoted a woman identified only by her last name, Chen, as saying she was about 50 meters (160 feet) from the restaurant when she heard the blast. She described seeing two waiters walk out of the restaurant, one of whom instantly collapsed, while thick smoke and a strong smell of cooking gas permeated the area.
The central government’s Ministry of Emergency Management said on social media that search and rescue work at the restaurant was completed early Thursday and investigators are working to determine the cause of the explosion.
The Dragon Boat Festival is a holiday dedicated to eating rice dumplings and racing boats driven by a team of rowers. While the majority of Yinchuan’s population is Han Chinese, a third are Hui people, or Chinese Muslims.
Industrial accidents of this nature occur regularly in China, and are usually attributed to poor government oversight, corruption and cost-cutting measures by employers, and lack of safety training for employees.
At least nine people were killed in an explosion at a Chinese petrochemical plant, and three more died in a helicopter crash during the Labor Day holiday in China.
In February, 53 miners were killed in an open pit coal mine collapse In the northern region of Inner Mongolia, which led to numerous arrests, and four people were arrested over a fire in an industrial trading company in central China in November that killed 38 people.
The central government has pledged stronger safety measures since a 2015 explosion at a chemical warehouse in the northern port city of Tianjin killed 173 people, most of them firefighters and police officers. In that case, a number of local officials were accused of taking bribes to ignore safety violations.
AP Video Producer Benny Wang in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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