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2019-03-22 09:20:03  + video 

This story was updated on March 25 to reflect the latest casualty figure. We will continue to incorporate new details as they become available.

The death toll of a chemical plant explosion in eastern China’s Jiangsu province has risen to 78, state-run newspaper People’s Daily reported Monday afternoon in a livestreamed press conference with local authorities. Over 600 people have been hospitalized with injuries.

The explosion occurred at a plant owned by Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Co. Ltd. in the city of Yancheng at around 2 p.m. Thursday. Video footage shared by domestic news outlets shows a fiery blast ripping through Chenjiagang Industrial Park, where the plant is located, and a building with its windows blown out.

The State Council, China’s Cabinet, announced Friday that it had formed a team to investigate the cause of the explosion.

A chemical plant in eastern China with a long history of safety concerns and industrial accidents exploded in Yancheng, Jiangsu province. By Gu Yifan, Tang Xiaolan, Liu Chang, and Fu Xiaofan/Sixth Tone

A total of 640 people — including the chemical company’s chief executive officer — were injured in the explosion, according to local authorities. All of them are currently being treated at local hospitals.

Residents in surrounding areas have been evacuated, while schools and kindergartens have been closed until further notice to prevent “any secondary accidents.” Several children at local kindergartens were among the injured, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.

Jiangsu Tianjiayi, which uses toxic chemicals such as benzene, has been chastised for violating production standards multiple times since it was established in April 2007. Two of the region’s environmental bureaus meted out seven punishments to the company between July 2016 and July 2018 — including fines totaling 1.21 million yuan ($181,000) — and ordered the plant to partially suspend its operations in April 2018 for “environmental pollution.” The State Administration of Work Safety announced in February of last year that 13 production-related risks had been detected at the company’s plant during a safety check.

Founded in 2002, Chenjiagang Industrial Park made headlines in February 2011 after nearly 10,000 nearby residents fled the area amid rumors of an impending explosion, according to China Youth Daily. In the ensuing panic, four people were killed when their car plunged into a river.

In November 2007, another explosion at a chemical factory in Chenjiagang killed eight people and severely injured five.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: An aerial view of the aftermath of an explosion at a chemical plant owned by Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Co. Ltd. in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, March 22, 2019. Gu Yifan for Sixth Tone)