Suspected gas explosions in Taiwan kill 25

By Ko Shu-ling, Kyodo News

Posted at Aug 01 2014 09:49 PM | Updated as of Aug 02 2014 05:49 AM

TAIPEI (UPDATED) - A series of powerful gas explosions in Taiwan's southern port city of Kaohsiung that began late Thursday killed at least 25 people and injured 257 others, Taiwan's National Fire Agency said Friday.

Firefighters and emergency personnel continue to remove debris, twisted metal, bricks and dirt, seeking survivors and possible evidence of what caused the blasts, which began at 11:59 p.m. Thursday and continued for about an hour.

The military has mobilized troops and provided equipment and vehicles to assist with relief efforts.

Describing the disaster as the most devastating in the city's history, Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu said an investigation into the cause of the explosions is still continuing.

City officials said they suspect the explosions were caused by leaks from oil or gas pipelines that exploded and then caught fire.

The city's fire bureau said Kaohsiung has asked local oil and gas companies -- Chinese Petroleum Corp. (Taiwan) and Hsin-Kao Gas Co. -- to cut off supplies to the Cianjhen District, where 2 kilometers of roads, motor vehicles and homes were destroyed.

Earlier Friday, Economic Affairs Minister Chang Chia-juch suggested the explosions might have been caused by propylene gas.

Kaohsiung Deputy Mayor Wu Hong-mo later said the pressure of a propylene pipeline was found to have dropped abnormally late Thursday night, but he emphasized further investigation is needed to determine the cause of the blasts.

The blasts have left more than 1 million Kaohsiung families without gas and water and more than 8,000 families without power.

To pay respects to the lives lost in the explosions as well as a stabbing attack in Taipei in May and a plane crash last week, Premier Jiang Yi-huah announced Friday afternoon that the state flag will be flown at half-mast on all government buildings and grounds over three days from Tuesday next week.

Meanwhile, both the ruling Nationalist Party and main opposition Democratic Progressive Party announced Friday they will temporarily suspend campaign activities related to November municipal and local elections.