HONG KONG (AP) — China’s president ordered a national security campaign Thursday after a massive cooking gas explosion at a barbecue restaurant in the northwest killed 31 people and injured seven others ahead of a long holiday weekend.
The blast hit the restaurant at around 8:40pm on Wednesday as people gathered for the Dragon Boat Festival on a busy street in Yinchuan, the capital of the traditionally Muslim Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.The official Xinhua news agency said.
The explosion knocked several people unconscious and they had to be carried out of the store, online news site The Paper reported, citing a member of the search and rescue team. The victims included elderly people and high school students.
An hour before the explosion, workers noticed the smell of cooking gas and discovered that a gas tank valve had broken, Xinhua reported. An employee was replacing a valve when the explosion occurred.
Chinese President Xi Jinping called for emergency medical treatment and security measures for the injured After the explosion, Xinhua said. He stressed efforts to quickly find the cause of the accident and hold people accountable under the law.
Xi said all regions and relevant departments should address “all kinds of risks and hidden dangers” and launch campaigns to improve workplace safety.
At a news conference Thursday, Yinchuan’s vice-party leader apologized to all the people in the city, according to news site Huanqiu.com. Before the news conference began, the participants bowed their heads in silence.
Nine people, including the restaurant’s owner, shareholders and employees, have been detained by authorities. Their assets have also been frozen, Xinhua said.
The blast happened at a shop of Fuyang Barbecue in Yinchuan, famous for its grilled skewers and fried foods, The Paper reported. The two-story restaurant seats 20 people on the ground floor and offers private dining rooms on the second floor, where customers can also sing karaoke.
A video on social media site Douyin showed rescuers on ladders to reach victims on the second floor. People with minor injuries were seen waiting for help on the roadside. Other videos showed at least six fire engines at the scene and some bystanders crying.
A staff member at the emergency care center at the General Hospital of Ningxia Medical University confirmed that some of the victims were being treated there, but declined to provide further information.
The paper noted that a woman, identified only by her surname Chen, said she was about 50 meters (160 feet) from the restaurant when she heard the explosion. He saw two workers coming out of the restaurant, one of whom collapsed immediately, while thick smoke and a strong smell of cooking gas permeated the area.
The federal Ministry of Emergency Management said on social media that the search and rescue operation at the restaurant had been completed early Thursday morning and that investigators were working to determine the cause of the blast.
The Dragon Boat Festival is a holiday dedicated to eating rice balls and racing boats driven by teams of oarsmen. The majority of Yinchuan’s population is Han Chinese, with a third being Hui or Chinese Muslims.
These types of industrial accidents are a regular occurrence in China, usually caused by poor government oversight, corruption, cost-cutting measures by employers, and little safety training for employees.
At least nine people were killed in an explosion at a Chinese petrochemical plant, and three died in a helicopter crash during the country’s May Day holiday.
In February, a large open-pit coal mine collapsed, killing 53 miners In the northern region of Inner Mongolia, which led to numerous arrests, four people were detained in connection with a November fire at an industrial trading company in central China that killed 38 people.
The central government has promised tight security measures after a 2015 explosion at a chemical warehouse in the northern port city of Tianjin killed 173 people, most of them firefighters and police officers. In that case, several local officials were accused of taking bribes to ignore safety violations.
AP video producer Penny Wang in Bangkok contributed to this report.