"The liquid metal engulfed the room, bursting through the door and windows and burying the workers," the China Daily said on Thursday of the tragedy at a plant belonging to the Qinghe Special Steel Company Limited.
"It is the most serious accident to hit China's steel industry since 1949," Sun Huashan, deputy head of the State Administration of Work Safety, was quoted as saying, citing the year of the founding of Communist China.
Burnt beyond recognition
Police had detained the company's manager, a workshop supervisor, an operator and a technician, Xinhua said.
"I was bending down to get some tools when I heard screaming. The ladle was falling," Xinhua quoted one survivor as saying.
"[The liquid] fell on to the ground and then spilled onto my body and burnt clothes. I just ran."
Another survivor was quoted as saying: "When the steel hit, it felt like being beaten by iron bars - my brain went blank. I would be dead if I had turned my head."
The bodies of the victims were burnt beyond recognition and DNA tests would need for identification, Xinhua said.
Like many state-owned enterprises in the northeastern industrial rust belt, Qinghe has been restructured into a private company, with about 300 workers, as China struggles to meet demand for steel from its booming economy.
In 2000, an oxygen generator explosion killed at least 19 workers at a steel plant in Pingxiang in the eastern province of Jiangxi.