At least 31 people were killed when a gas explosion ripped through a barbecue restaurant in the northwestern Chinese city of Yinchuan, state media said Thursday.
The Wednesday night blast occurred on the eve of the three-day Dragon Boat Festival holiday, when many in China go out and socialise with friends.
The explosion took place around 8:40 pm (1240 GMT) at the Fuyang Barbecue Restaurant in a residential area of downtown Yinchuan, the capital of the Ningxia autonomous region.
Footage on state broadcaster CCTV showed more than a dozen firefighters working at the site as smoke poured out of a gaping hole in the restaurant’s facade.
Shards of glass and other debris littered the darkened street, which is also home to a number of other eateries and entertainment venues.
Nine people, including the restaurant’s “owner, shareholders and staff”, were held by police following the explosion, CCTV said, adding that “their assets have been frozen”.
“A leak of liquefied petroleum gas… caused an explosion during the operation of a barbecue restaurant,” state news agency Xinhua said of the Wednesday evening blast, citing the regional Communist Party committee.
Seven more people were injured, with one in a “critical condition”, the agency initially reported, adding later that six of them were “stable” while the other had been discharged from hospital with minor injuries.
Those hospitalised suffered burns and scratches caused by flying glass, according to Xinhua.
High school students and retirees were among the casualties, many of whom died due to suffocation likely caused by smoke inhalation, state-backed media outlet The Paper said, citing anonymous officials involved in the rescue.
Xi orders probe
Chinese President Xi Jinping “demanded all-out efforts in treating the wounded and the strengthening of safety supervision and management in key industries and fields to effectively protect people’s lives and property”, Xinhua said Thursday.
Xi “urged efforts to ascertain the cause of the accident as soon as possible and hold the relevant people accountable in accordance with the law”.
“All regions and related departments should screen for and rectify all types of risks and hidden dangers,” Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.
The Ministry of Emergency Management said local fire and rescue services had dispatched more than 100 people and 20 vehicles to the scene in the wake of the blast.
Local authorities “immediately… demanded that all-out search and rescue efforts be organised, the wounded be properly treated and casualties be reduced as much as possible”, the ministry said.
The rescue efforts had concluded by 4:00 am Thursday, it said.
At a press conference on Thursday evening, city officials in dark suits and ties bowed solemnly.
“On behalf of the city’s party committee and government, I express deep mourning for the deceased, my sincere condolences to their relatives and the injured… and a profound apology to all the people of our city,” said Yinchuan Mayor Tao Shaohua.
Authorities would “clarify the cause of the accident as quickly as possible and announce the results of the investigation in a timely manner”, Tao said.
Officials would also carry out a “great screening and rectification campaign to eliminate (safety) risks and hidden dangers at the root,” he added.
Scenes of chaos
One video posted on social media in the blast’s aftermath showed two shirtless men, their trousers tattered and upper bodies covered in dust, crouching and standing dazed on a busy street sprayed with broken glass.
Another clip showed fire engines and ambulances tearing through nearby streets, flashing blue and red lights and sounding their sirens.
Social media images showed dozens of people gathering behind an emergency cordon on the opposite side of the street, with some visibly distressed.
AFP was able to geolocate the clips by matching the buildings to state media footage.
Explosions and other deadly incidents are relatively common in China, where building codes are often poorly enforced and widespread unauthorised construction can make it hard for people to flee burning structures.
At least 17 people died in a fire at a restaurant in the northeastern city of Changchun in September last year, according to statements given at the time by local authorities.
In January 2022, an explosion triggered by a suspected gas leak brought down a building in the city of Chongqing, killing more than a dozen people.
And 25 people were killed in a gas blast that ripped through a residential compound in Hubei province’s Shiyan in June 2021, also striking a busy two-storey building packed with shoppers.