Taipei, Aug. 1 (CNA) The number of people killed in multiple gas explosions in Kaohsiung overnight increased to 22 as of 7:30 a.m. Friday, the National Fire Agency said. Another 270 people were injured.
Twenty-six firefighters were among the casualties, including 4 fatalities.
An unknown number of people remained missing, including a senior fire official who went to the scene after 9 p.m. to help determine the source of an apparent gas leak before the first of several explosions occurred.
At daybreak, the full picture of the destruction became clear.
An area of two to three square kilometers in the city's Cianjhen District saw its roads ripped open and once busy streets strewn with debris. Cars were overturned and motorcycles mangled after many of them had been thrown into the air by the powerful blasts.
The series of explosions and subsequent fires lasting for hours were believed to have been caused by gas leaks underground and not connected to terrorism.
Fires at all but one location had been put out by dawn Friday.
Speaking to reporters early Friday, Minister of Economic Affairs Chang Chia-juch and a Kaohsiung City official said there were indications that the explosions were caused by ethylene, propene or butane, all highly flammable petrochemical products.
Several petrochemical plants are located in Kaohsiung. It is too early to say which of the companies' pipelines is to blame for the explosions, the officials said.
Many of the casualties involved emergency response personnel as the first explosion occurred when they tried to contain a gas-related incident on a busy street in Cianjhen District.
As of early Friday, search and rescue efforts were still going on, with troops going through piles of debris to look for signs of life.
Offices and schools in Cianjhen and Lingya Districts were shut down Friday to facilitate emergency work, Mayor Chen Chu said. The city government designated a cultural center and eight schools to be used as emergency shelters.
Firefighters from neighboring Tainan City and Pingtung County, as well as hundreds of troops were called in to help as President Ma Ying-jeou ordered "full-gear rescue efforts."