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Bosses fled as fire sparked blast

OFFICIALS at a quartz processing plant in east China fled a fire and failed to warn employees that a large cache of illegally stored explosives was threatened by the flames, witnesses said.

As workers rushed to put out the fire, the explosives erupted in a massive blast that leveled buildings and left 16 people dead and 43 injured, according to on-the-scene accounts.

Three of the victims were in critical condition last night, including a two-year-old boy who suffered brain damage.

At least two company employees were in custody as government officials negotiated compensation with the families of the survivors and the dead.

The explosion occurred on Sunday at Jingxin Mining Co Ltd in Anhui Province's Fengyang County. County officials have decided to pay families of the deceased the maximum compensation allowed under state law and local rules, China News Service reported yesterday. Each families will receive at least 250,000 yuan (US$36,576). Three have already signed agreements to accept the compensation from the government, the report said.

A witness, who declined to be named, told China News Service that the mishap started with a burning electrical wire. He said Jingxin executives, who were aware that explosives had been stored illegally on site, fled after the fire began.

Several factory workers, who did not know about the explosives, rushed to the scene and tried to put out the fire, he said. A two-story building, worker dormitories, dining halls and workshops were flattened or heavily damaged in the ensuing explosion, which left a pit 5 meters deep.

Company chief Cao Peijun was seized after he tried to escape with 2 million yuan in cash he had withdrawn from the bank. His son, a senior executive of the company, reportedly surrendered to police after the explosion.

Cao was found to have stored an estimated 5 to 7 tons of explosives in an office building in the factory compound, according to earlier media reports.

The privately owned company was primarily involved in quartz processing and did not use explosives in its operations.


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