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Taiwan Checks Gas Lines, Probes Companies after Deadly Blasts

  • Ralph Jennings

Rescue personnel survey the wreckage after an explosion in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, August 1, 2014.

Rescue personnel survey the wreckage after an explosion in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, August 1, 2014.

Taiwan is inspecting all underground gas lines for potential leaks after several underground explosions last week in the island’s second largest city killed 28 people and injured some 300 others. Prosecutors are also investigating two companies for their role in the leak of an industrial-use gas they believe caused the series of blasts.

While investigators continue to search for the exact cause of the series of explosions, authorities are taking steps to ensure that pipelines elsewhere in the country are safe.

Taiwan’s cabinet has ordered local governments to check the safety of underground gas pipelines by making sure the 21-year-old city and county computer records are up to date and complete.

Central government official Sun Lih-chyun said the petrochemical factories will be required to fill any gaps in the records. The central government will then have a copy of the records, at which point the group of experts can give advice such as what to do next and how to apply the information gathered.

The city where last week's explosion occurred, industrial port Kaohsiung, has Taiwan's highest concentration of underground gas lines located near residences - about 120,000 kilometers of pipes. Another cluster of underground gas pipelines near people's homes is in a large county that includes Taiwan's main international airport.

City officials in Kaohsiung say a propylene leak on Thursday evening led to the chain of explosions around midnight. The explosions blew up parts of four roads, sending cars into the air and catapulting rubble.

Prosecutors in Kaohsiung have sent a team of 11 to investigate two companies suspected of piping the propylene that leaked on Thursday. It is probing LCY Chemical Corporation, which makes petrochemical products, and its gas supplier, China General Terminal and Distribution Corp. City prosecutor spokesman Huang Yuan-kuan said the probe may lead to criminal charges.

Huang said the prosecutor will do a full investigation of the case and then confirm whether the cause can be blamed on a particular company or person. He added that since there is a great deal of evidence to consider, the prosecutor will proceed quickly but with no deadline.