|Kaohsiung evacuates residents from fatal gas blast site
Authorities in Taiwan's second largest city on Friday temporarily sealed off two streets and evacuated residents over reports of a fresh leak at the site of last week's fatal gas explosions.
The massive blasts in the southern city of Kaohsiung last Thursday left 30 dead and more than 300 injured -- the most deadly of their kind in Taiwan's history.
Chen Chin-der, head of Kaohsiung city's environmental protection bureau, said methane and other types of gas had been detected at the site on Friday, as officials ordered the area to be evacuated.
Energy firm Taiwan Power Company was told to cut the gas supply to the pipeline believed to be the source of the leak, and the evacuation order was later lifted after the leak was reduced to a negligible level, officials said.
Television footage showed that two streets had been cordoned off while workers used loudspeakers to ask residents in the area to evacuate to two schools.
Last week's blasts sparked massive fires that tore through Kaohsiung, leaving trenches running down the middle of some streets and throwing vehicles onto the roofs of buildings several stories high.
The city government blames Taiwanese company LCY Chemical Corp. for the explosions, saying around 10 tonnes of propene may have leaked from pipelines operated by the firm in the hours before the first explosion.
Prosecutors this week twice raided the offices of LCY Chemical and a distributor contracted by the company to deliver propene from a pier to a chemical plant 20 kilometers away as part of their investigation into the cause of the accident.
The government and local authorities dispute who bears responsibility for failing to monitor the safety of the underground industrial pipelines that exploded, as well as who should shoulder the massive reconstruction costs.
Economic affairs minister Chang Chia-juch offered to resign late Thursday to "take all the blame'' after he came under criticism over the central government's handling of the accident. Chang headed the emergency response center set up after the accident. His resignation is yet to be accepted by Premier Jiang Yi-huah.
Kaohsiung's deputy mayor and three other officials in the city government have also resigned, but have been asked to stay on until the disaster relief operations have been completed.
Kaohsiung lies adjacent to a huge petrochemical complex housing dozens of plants, and many pipelines run under the densely-packed city.
The explosions were the second disaster to strike Taiwan in just over a week, after a TransAsia Airways plane crashed with the loss of 48 lives on July 23. --AFP