At least 31 people have been killed and seven injured when gas used for cooking exploded at a barbecue restaurant in northwestern China.
The blast tore through the restaurant about 8:40pm (12:40 GMT) on Wednesday on a busy street in a residential area of Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, as people gathered to celebrate the three-day holiday for the Dragon Boat Festival, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
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“A leak of liquefied petroleum gas … caused an explosion during the operation of a barbecue restaurant,” Xinhua reported, citing the regional Communist Party committee.
Seven people were receiving medical treatment, the agency said, with one of them in a “critical condition”.
Two others suffered severe burns, two had minor injuries and two had scratches caused by flying glass, Xinhua added.
One video posted on social media in the blast’s aftermath showed two shirtless men, their trousers in tatters and upper bodies covered in dust, crouching and standing dazed on a busy street sprayed with broken glass.
Another clip showed fire engines and ambulances tearing through nearby streets, flashing blue and red lights and sounding their sirens.
Footage on the state broadcaster CCTV showed more than a dozen firefighters working at the site as smoke billowed from a gaping hole in the restaurant’s facade.
Shards of glass and other debris littered the darkened street.
The Paper, an online news outlet, cited one woman as saying she had been about 50 metres (164 feet) from the restaurant when she heard the explosion. She told the publication she saw two waiters stumble out of the restaurant, one of them collapsing immediately.
There was a strong smell of cooking gas, she said.
Nine people, including the restaurant’s “owner, shareholders and staff”, were held by police after the explosion, CCTV said, adding that their assets had been frozen.
Rescue efforts wrapped up by 4am on Thursday (20:00 GMT on Wednesday), state media said.
The Ministry of Emergency Management said local fire and rescue services had dispatched more than 100 people and 20 vehicles to the scene in the wake of the blast.
Accidents due to gas and chemical blasts are not uncommon in China despite years of attempts to improve safety.
Xinhua reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping “demanded all-out efforts in treating the wounded and the strengthening of safety supervision and management in key industries and fields to effectively protect people’s lives and property”.
The president “urged efforts to ascertain the cause of the accident as soon as possible and hold the relevant people accountable in accordance with the law”.
“All regions and related departments should screen for and rectify all types of risks and hidden dangers,” Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.
At least 17 people died in a fire at a restaurant in the northeastern city of Changchun in September, according to statements given at the time by local authorities.
In January 2022, an explosion triggered by a suspected gas leak brought down a building in the city of Chongqing, killing more than a dozen people.