BEIJING – Sixty-five people were killed and dozens seriously burned Saturday by an explosion at an eastern Chinese automotive parts factory that supplies General Motors, state media reported.
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The blast at the factory in an industrial zone of the city of Kunshan also left more than 100 people injured, with many suffering severe burns, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Kunshan, in Jiangsu province, is about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) southeast of Beijing.
State broadcaster CCTV showed footage shot by residents of large plumes of thick, black smoke rising from the plant. Several firefighting trucks were shown in the factory compound. News websites posted photos showing survivors or victims being lifted onto the back of large trucks, their bodies black presumably from burns or being covered in soot.
Some survivors were seen sitting on wooden cargo platforms on the road outside the factory, their clothes apparently burned off and skin exposed or being carried into ambulances.
The explosion occurred at 7:37a.m. at a workshop in the factory that polishes wheel hubs. There were more than 200 workers at the site when the blast occurred, Xinhua cited the city government as saying. Rescuers pulled out more than 40 bodies while another 20 or so other people died in the hospital, Xinhua said.
More than 120 people have been sent to hospitals in Kunshan and the nearby city of Suzhou. Burn experts from a Shanghai hospital arrived in Kunshan to help, Xinhua said.
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The factory is operated by the Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products Company, which according to the company's website was set up in 1998 and has a registered capital of $8.8 million. Its core business is electroplating aluminum alloy wheel hubs, and it supplies GM and other companies, the company said on its website.
A woman who answered the phone at the Zhongrong mainline said the company is a Taiwanese enterprise. She refused to give her name, any other information, or the contact numbers of company staffers handling the case.
A preliminary investigation has shown that the blast was likely a dust explosion, Xinhua said. Such an explosion is the fast combustion of particles suspended in air in an enclosed space. The particles could include dust or powdered metals such as aluminum. They would have to come into contact with a spark, such as fire, an overheated surface, or electrical discharge from machinery.
Calls to the city's government and police rang unanswered. A woman who answered the main phone line at the Zhongrong metal company
Workplace safety is a major problem in China, where safety regulations are often ignored.
Associated Press researcher Henry Hou contributed to this report.