China launches nationwide safety checks after deadly blast in Hubei

Mimi Lau, South China Morning Post

Posted at Jun 14 2021 09:30 PM

China’s central government has taken over rescue operations in response to a deadly blast in Hubei province on the weekend, the latest of a handful of disasters ahead of the Communist Party’s centenary next month.

At least 25 people were killed and more than 100 injured when a gas pipe exploded in a market in Shiyan on Sunday morning, prompting an order from President Xi Jinping for cadres to “stay vigilant and politically sensitive” in preventing major safety hazards.

Provincial authorities had been leading the rescue efforts and investigation but on Monday the State Council’s Work Safety Committee and the Ministry of Emergency Management met and decided to assume those responsibilities, according to an official notice.

“A work team headed by senior emergency management cadres has been sent to the site to ensure all rescue operations are carried out to the greatest extent and casualties minimised,” the notice said.

“The cause and proceedings of the incident will also be thoroughly investigated and shall be handled strictly in accordance with laws and regulations. The State Council’s Work Safety Committee has taken over all investigations in relation to the incident.”

Quoting minutes of the meeting, China News Service reported: “The recent safety hazards have revealed problems among certain local governments, departments and corporations in terms of their thinking and inspections.”

The blast is the latest in a series of major safety incidents that have resulted in high casualties.

Beijing responded each time by ordering all-out efforts in rescue operations, and for nationwide inspections against hidden risks, to prevent a repeat.

In his instructions on Sunday, Xi called on local governments to learn from Hubei’s painful lesson, ordered the explosion be investigated and those who were responsible for the accident to be held accountable.

Video footage published on the online news portal Btime.com showed the market had been destroyed, with almost all windows and doors in the two-storey building shattered and the streets filled with rubble.

Premier Li Keqiang urged the work safety committee of the State Council and emergency management ministry to supervise the hazard hunts across the country as well as the checks on local authorities’ safety oversight.

There have been numerous efforts in recent years to raise safety regulations in China, where hazards often lead to severe casualties.

Also on Sunday, six maintenance workers were reportedly killed after falling into a sewage water tank at a food factory in Chengdu, in the western province of Sichuan. A chemical leak on Saturday also killed at least eight people and injured another three in Guiyang, capital of the southern province of Guizhou.

The central government has sent aid to the rescue operation in Hubei, including officials from emergency management, housing and construction to handle disaster follow-up. Burns specialists and psychologists were among a group of medical experts also dispatched to Shiyan.

State broadcaster CCTV reported that more than 2,000 rescuers had been mobilised and that citywide safety hazard inspections were under way.

More than 900 residents and merchants from Shiyan’s Yanhu residential area were evacuated after the blast, according to the Shiyan city government, and 853 relatives of the injured had been settled into eight hotels, as the investigation into the cause of the blast continued.