Monday, 1 March 2010

Blast at wealthy family’s fireworks show kills 20


It was meant to be a show of wealth and to bestow good fortune in the Year of the Tiger. But a wealthy family’s firework display in a village in Guangdong went tragically wrong, triggering a huge explosion that killed at least 20 people, including children, and left nearly 50 injured, some critically.

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Blast at wealthy family’s fireworks show kills 20

Fiona Tam
28 February 2010

It was meant to be a show of wealth and to bestow good fortune in the Year of the Tiger. But a wealthy family’s firework display in a village in Guangdong went tragically wrong, triggering a huge explosion that killed at least 20 people, including children, and left nearly 50 injured, some critically.

Doors and windows in a 150-metre radius were blown out, cars and a nearby house set alight and trees reduced to ashes when some of the fireworks set off on Friday night in a village in Puning ignited a pile stored nearby - apparently for another display today to mark the Lantern Festival. Yesterday a crater marked the spot where the fireworks had been piled.

Most of those killed were relatives of Yang Junshu, a former village cadre, or neighbours gathered to watch the fireworks. Villagers said Yang and his seven brothers ran highly profitable businesses in Shenzhen.

The blast occurred in front of two six-storey houses the Yangs own in the township of Junbu. Thirteen people were confirmed dead at the scene. Seven others taken to hospitals in critical condition were later confirmed dead. Among the dead were four children of Yang’s neighbours, aged seven to 12, and Yang’s 81-year old mother and a younger brother.

Of 49 injured, eight were still in critical condition last night, the local government said.

Police detained Yang and his nephew Yang Keqin for ignoring safety warnings and setting off powerful pyrotechnics. The local government said the pair had paid it an “accident handling fee” of 8 million yuan (HK$9.08 million).

Newspapers said Yang, who is in his 60s, had been the village’s party secretary until he was sacked several years ago for causing a fire. The circumstances are not known.

While fireworks accidents are common, an explosion on the scale of Friday’s in Junbu is unusual.

The family is famous for spending hundreds of thousands yuan on firework displays every year. Such grand displays have become one of the most popular ways for the mainland’s nouveaux riches to celebrate.

Witness Yang Zhanfa was riding past on a motorcycle when the fireworks exploded and suffered an injury to his right leg.

“I heard a huge blow and was sent flying to the ground by a fireball before I realised what happened,” he told the Yangcheng Evening News. “My motorbike caught fire. I heard a series of explosions from nearby buildings. I was forced to crouch down for a while before I could escape from the scene.”

Xinhua reported that the explosions were so powerful the doors and windows of the Yang family’s two homes were blown out and the properties badly damaged. Six cars were destroyed and streetlights burned to the ground. Dozens of villagers living up to 150 metres from the scene of the blast said that the force of the explosions had shattered their windows.

Investigators from the Ministry of Public Security and the State Administration of Work Safety arrived in Puning yesterday. Guangdong Vice-Governor Li Ronggen was overseeing the investigation and the work of emergency services at the scene.

Provincial officials and colleagues from Jieyang city, which has jurisdiction over Puning, launched a campaign to seize illegally stored fireworks, Xinhua said.

Across the mainland at least 11 people were killed and more than 1,800 injured in fireworks-related accidents during the first week of the Lunar New Year holiday.

Last year, an illegal fireworks display in Beijing by China Central Television staff to mark the Lantern Festival sparked a fire that engulfed a newly built tower meant for a luxury hotel at CCTV’s new headquarters. A fire fighter was killed tackling the blaze and eight others injured.

Twenty-three people stood trial last week over the fire, which the authorities said had caused at 160 million yuan in damage.