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Fri Mar 16, 7:41 am

China Explosion

A series of explosions shattered the pre-dawn atmosphere around a Chinese industrial city, about 150 miles southwest of Beijing. The Xinhua news agency reports more than a dozen people were killed when the blasts ripped through four residential blocks. The most powerful blast destroyed a five-story building. There was no word on what caused the explosions. Officials said two other blasts occurred near state-owned cotton mills and a fourth was near a university.

-- Rachel Gibson (, March 16, 2001



Friday, March 16, 2001

Massive blasts hit China

By MARTIN FACKLER-- The Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) -- Three explosions within an hour ripped through separate workers' dormitories in a northern Chinese city Friday, killing at least 18 people and reducing one building to rubble, state media and fire officials said.

The blasts struck dormitories for two cotton mills and a railroad company in the city of Shijiazhuang, said the city's fire official, who gave only his surname, Liu. The three five-story dormitories were several miles apart.

Liu said the deaths and injuries were still being counted, and that 40 people had been rescued from the wreckage. But the official Xinhua News Agency said 18 people had been killed. Shijiazhuang, an industrial center and the capital of Hebei province, is about 170 miles southwest of Beijing.

The first -- and most damaging -- blast nearly flattened a dormitory that housed 48 families at the No. 3 Cotton Mill. Firefighters received a call about the fire at 4:16 a.m. local time, Liu said.

"The building was almost completely collapsed," he said.

People were still trapped in the rubble Friday evening and rescue efforts were underway, firefighters said.

A city official who would only give his surname, Hou, said the death toll from the blast was rising but wouldn't give an exact figure.

About 15 minutes later, a second explosion struck a dormitory housing 15 families at the nearby No. 1 Cotton Mill, according to Liu.

Another explosion about 40 minutes later hit the third dormitory, where 15 families lived at a city-run railroad company, Liu said.

The blasts at the No. 1 Cotton Mill and railroad dormitories caused little damage and only light injuries, Hou said.

The cotton mill dormitories were on the same block, across the street from their factories, though not side by side, said Liu. The railway dormitory was 31/2 miles away.

Rescue operations had finished at the No. 1 Cotton Mill, but firefighters were still searching through debris at the other sites late Friday afternoon, Liu said.

The cause of the blasts was under investigation. Explosions, both accidental and deliberate, are common in China. While firearms are strictly controlled, industrial explosives are readily available.

Muslim separatists in western China have carried out bombings and assassinations in a campaign against Chinese rule. Elsewhere in China, bombings have been blamed on disgruntled workers, jilted lovers, blackmailers and others.

The Shijiazhuang blasts came 10 days after an explosion at an elementary school in the southern province of Jiangxi killed at least 42 people, mostly children.

Premier Zhu Rongji blamed the March 6 explosion on a lone madman who he said carried explosives into the school and detonated them. Parents blamed fireworks manufacturing at the school, although Zhu said there was no evidence to support their account.

The blast, coming during the Chinese legislature's annual session, embarrassed Communist Party leaders who have repeatedly called for efforts to tackle China's safety problems.

-- Rachel Gibson (, March 16, 2001.

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