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    Gas Explosion in Northwest China Restaurant Leaves 31 Dead

    Nine, including restaurant’s owner, detained; President Xi Jinping orders nationwide safety campaign.
    Jun 23, 2023#disasters#policy

    A catastrophic explosion caused by a gas tank leak at a popular barbeque restaurant has left 31 people dead and seven injured in Yinchuan City in China’s northwestern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. 

    The blast occurred around 8.30 p.m. Wednesday at the Fuyang Barbecue Restaurant in the city’s Xingqing District on the eve of the three-day Dragon Boat Festival holiday, as families and friends gathered to celebrate.

    Nine people, including the owner of the restaurant and its manager, and several members of the staff have been detained by local police.

    The incident has drawn renewed attention towards public safety risks and awareness. 

    President Xi Jinping called for “all-out efforts” in the rescue and stated that it was a “profound lesson,” state broadcaster CCTV reported Thursday. He has also ordered a national safety campaign to prevent such accidents around the country. In a media briefing, the provincial government Thursday offered condolences to families of the victims, and pledged follow up treatment. 

    Local media reported that the majority of the victims, mostly high school students and retirees, died of asphyxiation. The condition of the seven injured, who suffered different degrees of injuries, burns, and glass cuts, has stabilized, said local authorities.

    Video footage after the explosion circulating online showed widespread destruction, with flames and smoke engulfing buildings and debris littered across the streets. Local fire services completed rescue operations at around 4 a.m. Thursday after dispatching 20 vehicles and more than 100 personnel.

    Two restaurant employees told local media that they smelled a gas leak one hour before the explosion and tracked it to a faulty valve. Chief manager Li Zhixiang brought in a new valve but it exploded while he was replacing it.

    A popular local barbecue chain, the restaurant is often full during peak hours owing to its favorable location in a busy neighborhood. It is also adjacent to a local high school, residents told local media.

    The explosion occurred in the kitchen on the first floor, then set off a second blast in the natural gas pipeline on the second floor, according to local media. Ningxia authorities said that 64 households in the same building have been asked to move out to avoid secondary damage. 

    The provincial government has launched a comprehensive month-long safety campaign to identify and eliminate potential safety hazards, particularly those associated with gas and chemicals, as well as in mines, transportation, and construction projects.

    Gas leak explosions have become a significant cause for alarm in China, raising serious safety concerns. In 2022 alone, more than 800 cases were reported, leading to 66 deaths and 487 injuries, according to a report issued by the China Gas Association. 

    In June 2021, a gas pipeline exploded in Shiyan in the central Hubei province, killing 26 people and injuring 138 others.

    Editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: Firefighters at the explosion site in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, June 21, 2023. IC)