Chain reaction of blasts kills 23 in China's latest industrial accident

BEIJING (Reuters) - A series of blasts during the delivery of a flammable gas at a chemical manufacturer in China on Wednesday killed 23 people and injured at least 22, the latest casualties in a series of industrial accidents that has angered the public.

A video of the blast scene broadcast by state media showed billowing black smoke and flames, while photographs showed rows of burnt-out cars and trucks.

An explosion during a delivery of acetylene set off a chain reaction among trucks parked along a road, leaving 50 vehicles damaged, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing the city’s fire fighting department.

The local government announced the casualty toll in a social media posting.

The acetylene was being delivered to the Haipoer New Energy Technology Company in Zhangjiakou city, in the northern province of Hebei, Xinhua reported.

Reuters was unable to contact Haipoer for comment.

All fires at the blast site had been extinguished, state media reported.

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Production at the nearby Hebei Shenghua Chemical Industry Co was operating normally, Xinhua reported. A woman who answered the plant’s telephone had earlier told Reuters that production had been suspended.

Zhangjiakou, about 156 km (96 miles) northwest of Beijing, is set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics along with the capital.

Public anger over safety standards has grown in China after three decades of swift economic growth has been marred by accidents ranging from mining disasters to factory fires.

In August 2015, 165 people were killed in a chemical warehouse explosion in the port city of Tianjin. The government found that the disaster was causes by improperly or illegally stored hazardous materials.

China has vowed to improve industrial standards, but environmentalists say they fear oversight weaknesses persist, including an opaque production process for hazardous chemicals.

Reporting by Ryan Woo, Dominque Patton, Christian Shepherd and Meng Meng; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel