Beijing, Miami, Mar 22 (AP/UNB) — A massive explosion at a chemical plant in eastern China with a long record of safety violations has killed at least 47 people and injured hundreds of others, 90 of them seriously.
Thursday's blast in an industrial park in the city of Yancheng, north of Shanghai, was one of China's worst industrial accidents in recent years. State-run television showed crushed cars, blown-out windows and workers leaving the factory with bloodied heads.
Schools were closed and nearly 1,000 residents were moved to safety as a precaution against leaks and additional explosions, the city government said in a statement posted to its microblog.
The blast created a crater and more than 900 firefighters were deployed to extinguish the fire that burned into the night.
Windows in buildings as far as 6 kilometers (4 miles) away were blown out by the force of the blast, which caused a magnitude 2.2 seismic shock.
A resident of the community of Chenjiagang, about 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) from the plant, said neighbors were injured by glass from windows smashed by the blast force.
"At the time of the explosion, I was almost deafened and I was terribly frightened," said the woman, who gave only her surname, Zhi.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, on a state visit to Italy, demanded "all-out efforts" to find and rescue victims, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
"Relief work must be well done to maintain social stability. Meanwhile, environmental monitoring and early warning should be strengthened to prevent environmental pollution as well as secondary disasters," it quoted Xi as saying.
Xi said local officials need to learn the lessons of a recent series of industrial accidents to preserve lives and property, signaling a likely crackdown on safety violations at a time when many Chinese companies are being hit by a downturn in sales that is squeezing profit margins.
The higher death toll, raised from 44 but with no change in the number of injured, suggested rescue crews were still finding bodies at the blast site.
The Yancheng city government statement said 3,500 medical workers at 16 hospitals were mobilized to treat the injured, dozens of whom remained in critical condition.
The cause of the blast was under investigation and people responsible for operations at the plant have been placed "under control," Xinhua said. It wasn't clear whether anyone had been formally arrested.
State media said the State Council, China's Cabinet, had been ordered to oversee the investigation.
China experiences frequent industrial accidents despite orders from the central government to improve safety at factories, power plants and mines.
Among the worst accidents was a massive 2015 explosion at a chemical warehouse in the port city of Tianjin that killed 173 people, most of them firefighters and police officers. That blast was blamed on illegal construction and unsafe storage of volatile materials.
In November, at least 22 people were killed and scores of vehicles destroyed in an explosion outside a chemical plant in the northeastern city of Zhangjiakou, which will host competitions in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Thursday's disaster occurred at a factory run by the Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Co. Located among a cluster of chemical factories in Yancheng, it has a dismal safety record: In February 2018, China's State Administration for Work Safety cited 13 types of safety hazards at the company, including mishandling of tanks of toxic benzene, the source of Thursday's explosion.
Those violations came despite the plant having racked up 1.79 million RMB ($267,000) in fines since 2016 for violations of environmental regulations, according to a judgments issued by local county and city environmental protection bureaus. Those included improperly dealing with hazardous waste and evading air pollution supervision.
A 2017 explosion that killed 10 at a nearby plant prompted the State Administration of Work Safety to dispatch inspectors. They discovered over 200 safety hazards at chemical factories in Yancheng and four nearby cities, including 13 at the Tianjiayi plant. Safety hazards cited included leaks and drips, employees who didn't understand safety procedures, and a lack of emergency shut-off valves on tanks carrying flammable chemicals.
In 2014, the company's chairman, Zhang Qinyue, and Wu Guozhong, its former supply chief, were arrested on suspicion of dumping and burying hazardous waste byproducts near a temple and a village landfill, according to a Jiangsu court criminal judgement. They were convicted in 2017 and the company was fined 1 million ($149,000).
Johannesburg, Mar 19 (AP/UNB) — More than 1,000 people were feared dead in Mozambique four days after a cyclone slammed into the country, submerging entire villages and leaving bodies floating in the floodwaters, the nation's president said.
"It is a real disaster of great proportions," President Filipe Nyusi said.
Cyclone Idai could prove to be the deadliest storm in generations to hit the impoverished southeast African country of 30 million people.
It struck Beira, an Indian Ocean port city of a half-million people, late Thursday and then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi with strong winds and heavy rain. But it took days for the scope of the disaster to come into focus in Mozambique, which has a poor communication and transportation network and a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy.
Speaking on state Radio Mozambique, Nyusi said that while the official death toll stood at 84, "It appears that we can register more than 1,000 deaths."
Emergency officials cautioned that while they expect the death toll to rise significantly, they have no way of knowing if it will reach the president's estimate.
More than 215 people were killed by the storm in the three countries, including more than 80 in Zimbabwe's eastern Chimanimani region and more than 50 in Malawi, according to official figures. Hundreds more were reported injured and missing, and nearly 1,000 homes were destroyed in eastern Zimbabwe alone.
Doctors Without Borders said rivers have broken their banks leaving many houses fully submerged and around 11,000 households displaced in Nsanje, in southern Malawi.
U.N. agencies and the Red Cross helped rush emergency food and medicine by helicopter to the stricken countries.
Mount Chiluvo in central Mozambique was badly hit by flooding. One resident said he heard a loud noise, like an explosion, and suddenly saw a river of mud rolling toward his home.
"I was indoors with my children, but when we looked we saw mud coming down the road towards the houses and we fled," Francisco Carlitos told Lusa, the Portuguese News Agency. The family lost their home and possessions but safely reached higher ground.
The country's president, who cut short a visit to neighboring Swaziland over the weekend because of the disaster, spoke after flying by helicopter over Beira and two rural provinces, where he reported widespread devastation.
"The waters of the Pungue and Buzi rivers overflowed, making whole villages disappear and isolating communities, and bodies are floating," Nyusi said.
The United Nation's humanitarian office said the government issued flood warnings and said heavy rains were forecast for the next 24 hours, including in areas already hit hard by Idai.
The Red Cross said 90 percent of Beira was damaged or destroyed. The cyclone knocked out electricity, shut down the airport and cut off access to the city by road.
U.N. officials cited reports that Beira Central Hospital's emergency room was flooded and without power, and that much of the building's roof had collapsed. Doctors Without Borders said it had completely ceased operations in Beira hospital, local health centers and throughout the community.
The destruction in Beira is "massive and horrifying," said Jamie LeSueur, who led a Red Cross team that had to assess the damage by helicopter because of the flooded-out roads.
The U.N. also warned of devastation outside Beira, in particular of livestock and crops.
"As this damage is occurring just before the main harvest season, it could exacerbate food insecurity in the region," the U.N. humanitarian office known as OCHA said.
Mozambique is a long, narrow country with a 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) coastline along the Indian Ocean. It is prone to cyclones and tropical storms this time of year.
In 2000, Mozambique was hit by severe flooding caused by weeks of heavy rain, a disaster made much worse when a cyclone hit. Approximately 700 people were killed in what was regarded as the worst flooding in 50 years.
Mozambique won independence from Portugal in 1975 and then was plagued by a long-running civil war that ended in 1992. Its economy is dominated by agriculture, and its exports include prawns, cotton, cashews, sugar, coconuts and tropical hardwood timber.
More recently it has been exporting aluminum and electric power, and deposits of natural gas were discovered in the country's north.
Lagos, Mar 14 (AP/UNB) — Emergency crews sifted through debris as night fell on frantic efforts to rescue scores of school children and others feared trapped inside a three-story building that collapsed Wednesday in Nigeria's densely populated commercial capital, Lagos. At least eight people were confirmed dead and 37 others were rescued alive.
Anguished families crowded around the flattened remains of the building, which housed an elementary school, holding out hope that more children would still be found alive in the wreckage.
Scenes of jubilation erupted earlier in the day when a man was brought out alive. But the mood shifted dramatically an hour later when another man was brought out dead. The rescue of a woman carried to an ambulance on a stretcher was greeted with cries of, "She's not dead!" in the local Yoruba language.
The evening call to prayer could be heard as hundreds anxiously waited in the city's Ita Faji neighborhood trying to help in rescue efforts. Using flashlights, some people pulled what looked like clothing from the ruins. In the crowd, a baby cried.
As many as 100 children had been in the primary school on the building's top floors, witnesses said.
"It touches one to lose precious lives in any kind of mishap, particularly those so young and tender," Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said.
Earlier, Associated Press video showed rescuers in yellow vests carrying dust-covered, stunned-looking children from the rubble, to cheers from hundreds who had rushed to the scene. But the crowd quieted as others were pulled out slung over rescuers' shoulders, unmoving.
The children were hurried to ambulances. One man pressed his hands to a passing survivor's head in blessing.
More equipment was brought in as nightfall approached. National Emergency Management Agency spokesman Ibrahim Farinloye said 37 people had been pulled out alive, while eight bodies were recovered from the ruins. An unknown number remained missing.
It was not immediately clear why the building collapsed, but such disasters are all too common in Nigeria, where new construction often goes up without regulatory oversight and floors are added to already unstable buildings.
Lagos state Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode said the building, which had been marked for demolition, was classified as residential and the school was operating illegally on the top two floors.
He promised a full investigation once rescue operations were concluded and vowed that those responsible would be prosecuted.
"I want to commiserate with the families of those that lost their lives in this collapsed building," the governor said in a post on his Facebook page that also urged onlookers to "give the rescue workers the chance to save more lives."
The children's rights group Plan International Nigeria called on the Lagos state government to "launch an inquiry into the incident, and ensure that all persons found culpable for dereliction of duties are punished."
"This incident has further highlighted the urgent need ... to take urgent action on issues of safety in schools across the country," country director Hussaini Abdu said.
Ambode, the state governor, said his deputy was visiting hospitals and that the government would cover the hospital bills of survivors. "All we are interested in now is to save more lives and also see how those that have been rescued are put in proper place and proper care," he said.
Earlier in the day, anxious onlookers stood in narrow streets and on rooftops of rusted, corrugated metal, watching the rescue efforts. With emotions high, a number of shirtless men jumped in to offer assistance, hacksaws and mallets in hand. Some were barefoot. Some were bare-handed. One held a water bottle in his teeth.
The collapse came as Buhari, newly elected to a second term as president, tries to improve groaning, inefficient infrastructure in Africa's most populous nation.
In a recent report, the International Monetary Fund noted the state of the country's crumbling infrastructure.
"Nigeria's infrastructure is generally less than half the size than in the average sub-Saharan Africa country and only a fraction of that in emerging market economies," the report said. "The perceived quality of the infrastructure is low."
Sao Paulo, Mar 13 (AP/UNB) — Two young men, wearing hoods and carrying firearms and other weapons, opened fire at a school in southern Brazil on Wednesday, killing eight people before taking their own lives, authorities said.
The dead included two teachers and six students, and several other people had been hospitalized after sustaining injuries, according to Gov. Joao Doria, speaking a few blocks from the public school in Suzano, a suburb of Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city.
The age of the attackers was estimated to be between 20 and 25 years old, and authorities don't believe they were former students, the governor said.
Doria said the school had been evacuated and police were inspecting possible explosives left by the shooters.
"The school is on lockdown," he said.
Latin America's most populous nation has the largest number of annual homicides in the world, but school shootings are rare.
Brazil's new President Jair Bolsonaro recently announced that gun ownership controls would be loosened.
Hejere, Mar 13 (AP/UNB) — The black box from the Boeing jet that crashed and killed all 157 people on board will be sent overseas for analysis but no country has been chosen, an Ethiopian Airlines spokesman said Wednesday, as much of the world grounded or barred the plane model and grieving families arrived at the disaster site.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Asrat Begashaw said the airline has "a range of options" for the data and voice records of the flight's last moments. "What we can say is we don't have the capability to probe it here in Ethiopia," he said. An airline official has said one recorder was partially damaged.
The Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft crashed six minutes after takeoff Sunday, killing all 157 people on board. The disaster is the second with a Max 8 plane in just five months.
While some aviation experts have warned against drawing conclusions until more information on the latest crash emerges, much of the world, including the entire European Union, has grounded the Boeing jetliner or banned it from their airspace. Ethiopian Airlines, widely seen as Africa's best-managed airline, grounded its remaining four 737 Max 8s.
That leaves the United States as one of the few remaining operators of the plane.
"Similar causes may have contributed to both events," European regulators said, referring to the Lion Air crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people last year.
Others took action on Wednesday. Lebanon and Kosovo barred the Boeing 737 Max 8 from their airspace, and Norwegian Air Shuttles said it would seek compensation from Boeing after grounding its fleet. Egypt banned the operation of the aircraft. Thailand ordered budget airline Thai Lion Air to suspend flying the planes for risk assessments. Lion Air confirmed reports it has put on hold the scheduled delivery of four of the jets.
The U.S.-based Boeing has said it has no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies and does not intend to issue new recommendations about the aircraft to customers.
Boeing's CEO Dennis Muilenburg also spoke with President Donald Trump and reiterated that the 737 Max 8 is safe, the company said. Its technical team, meanwhile, joined American, Israeli, Kenyan and other aviation experts in the investigation led by Ethiopian authorities.
The Federal Aviation Administration also backed the jet's airworthiness and said it was reviewing all available data. "Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft," acting FAA Administrator Daniel K. Elwell said in a statement. "Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action."
Some aviation experts have warned that finding answers in this crash could take months.
An Ethiopian pilot who saw the crash site minutes after the disaster told the AP that the plane appeared to have "slid directly into the ground."
Asrat, the Ethiopian Airlines spokesman, told the AP that the remains of victims recovered so far were in freezers and that forensic DNA work for identifications had not yet begun.
The dead came from 35 countries. The airline has identifying them should take five days.
More devastated families arrived at the crash site on Wednesday, some supported by loved ones and wailing.