NINGBO, CHINA - A powerful explosion hit China's major port city of Ningbo yesterday, killing at least two people, injuring more than a dozen and wrecking buildings, the authorities said.
Cars were twisted and mangled by the force of the blast, a plume of grey smoke rose in the sky and debris was scattered for dozens of metres. But there was no official word on its cause.
The Ningbo government said on a social media account that the explosion occurred in a "vacant lot", without giving further details.
An inquiry has been launched to determine the cause of the blast.
State broadcaster CCTV said it was not a gas explosion, as the gas pipelines beneath the ground were no longer active, citing the operator of the pipelines.
Xinhua news agency said the explosion happened in a demolished factory in the city's Jiangbei district at around 9am.
The Chinese Communist Party's People's Daily said on Twitter that no one lived at the scene but garbage collectors might have been working there.
Zhejiang Daily reported that several buildings collapsed in a nearby residential area that had already been cleared of people.
Police told Reuters the area had been marked for demolition.
The local authorities said two people died, two were seriously injured and an unidentified number were being treated for lesser injuries in Ningbo. TV footage showed rescuers in helmets carrying injured people away from the area, while others stood over a person lying on the ground.
State media reported that more than 30 people were rushed to hospital. Sixteen people were still being treated for minor injuries while an undisclosed number had left the hospital.
Rescue work was still under way but CCTV said yesterday evening that no one else was believed to be trapped in the rubble.
Located just south of Shanghai, Ningbo is one of the country's major international container shipping ports.
Blasts and other accidents are common in China due to patchy enforcement of safety rules, although the government has pledged to improve checks to try to stamp out such incidents.
In August 2015, a series of explosions traced to improperly stored dangerous chemicals killed more than 165 people in the port city of Tianjin. The massive blasts flattened a huge area in a national development zone in Tianjin and led to the evacuation of residents.
The incident also caused over US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) in damage and sparked widespread anger over lax safety standards and an alleged cover-up of the environmental impact.
A government inquiry into the Tianjin blast released in February last year recommended that 123 people be punished. The official who was mayor at the time of the accident was sentenced to 12 years in prison for graft in September. Huang Xingguo, 62, had also headed the disaster response committee.
In yesterday's incident, CGTN, a network operated by CCTV, tweeted that a "huge tremor" was felt in the vicinity when the blast hit.
The force of the explosion shattered windows and punched holes in the walls of buildings located as far as a kilometre away. It also sent chunks of masonry flying around the area.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS