Fire rages, mass evacuation after Thai factory blast

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BANGKOK, July 5 (Reuters) - Thousands of people on the outskirts of Thailand's capital were being evacuated on Monday as firefighters battled blazes for hours after a factory explosion that killed a rescue worker and wounded 29 people, officials said.

Disaster authorities said 70 houses were damaged and fires were still being fought 15 hours after the explosion in Samut Prakan province in the early hours of Monday.

The cause of the blast at the Taiwanese-owned factory had yet to be determined. The nearby Suvarnabhumi international airport, Thailand's main gateway, said its operations were not affected.

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A large cloud of black smoke could be seen from Bangkok and the city's water authority warned people against drinking potentially contaminated rainwater.

Samut Prakan residents living within five kilometres (3.1 miles) of the factory were being moved away as a precaution.

"At first it felt like lightning. After that, I heard something drop loudly, and for a while the house started shaking like there was an earthquake," said Baitong Nisarat, a resident.

The industry ministry said as much as 700 million baht ($21.79 million) of assets could be lost in the fire.

Reuters could not reach the factory's operator and its parent company in Taiwan did mot immediately respond to an request by email for comment.

The 32-year-old factory makes expandable polystyrene foam. According to the department of industrial works, styrene monomer, a base chemical needed to make foam, is highly flammable and polystyrene releases toxic chemicals when heated.

($1 = 32.1200 baht)

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Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Additional reporting by Jiraporn Kuhakan; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Martin Petty

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