KUALA TERENGGANU • A day out at a public health event in the Malaysian state of Terengganu turned tragic when some 150 balloons meant to be released into the sky exploded into a ball of fire, injuring 31 people, including children.
Friday's incident came at the end of a Walk for the Blind organised by the ophthalmology department of the Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital in conjunction with the 2016 World Sight Day, the New Straits Times (NST) Online reported.
The organiser had planned to impress the crowd at the Batu Burok Recreational Park by releasing the bunch of black and white balloons into the sky at the opening ceremony. However, the balloons failed to take off as their strings got entangled, and they were set aside.
But dozens of people, mostly children, tried to remove the balloons. It is believed that one adult tried to use a lighter to burn through the strings, setting off the explosion, according to NST Online.
Seven people have been hospitalised for burns ranging from 3 to 19 per cent, with one of them in the intensive care unit.
POLICE REPORT TO COME
We will wait for the outcome of the police report first on the actual gas used to inflate the balloons. If possible, we will ban the use of balloons in all official functions.
MR AHMAD RAZIF, Terengganu Menteri Besar
"The one who suffered from a 19 per cent burn is a 12-year-old student. Most of those warded sustained burns on their face, neck and upper limbs," hospital director Nor Azimi Yunus was quoted as saying in the NST report. A further 24 people received outpatient treatment. She said the condition of all those warded was stable but they needed close observation.
The supplier of the balloons said they were filled with non-flammable helium gas.
But the blast prompted Terengganu Menteri Besar Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman to announce a temporary ban on the use of gas-filled balloons at state government events, NST Online reported.
"We will wait for the outcome of the police report first on the actual gas used to inflate the balloons. If possible, we will ban the use of balloons in all official functions in future," Mr Ahmad Razif told reporters after visiting the victims at the hospital yesterday.
"I will also instruct all the local authorities to carry out checks on decorative balloons sold by traders in the state, especially in recreational parks that target children," he added. "We want to be 100 per cent sure that only non-flammable gas is used to inflate balloons."
Malaysian Health Minister S. Subramaniam said the standard operating procedure for releasing balloons at events would be reviewed and stricter controls would be put in place.