Explosions hit a chemical plant Tuesday in southwest China, killing at least five people, injuring at least 55 and prompting the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The first explosion occurred at around 6 a.m. in Yizhou city in Guangxi province, Xinhua said, adding that 14 people were missing following the accident.
The explosions continued until 1 p.m., spreading fire over a nearly 108,000-square-foot (10,000-square-meter) area, Xinhua said, citing an unidentified firefighter in the rescue operation.
The government evacuated 11,500 residents in case of further blasts and chemical leaks, Xinhua said.
"All I know is that it might be a serious blast. Many of the fire brigades of nearby towns have been mobilized to help," said Fan Yinfeng, an operator at the fire brigade under the Yizhou Public Security Bureau.
Rescuers at the scene heard several more blasts as thick smoke enveloped the plant, Xinhua said.
"With explosions continuing and a fire raging, it is quite treacherous for rescuers, since there are huge hidden dangers amid the blasts, along with leaks of toxic gases such as ammonia and formaldehyde," Ma Dewen, the firefighter in charge of the rescue efforts, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
The plant is in a development zone of Yizhou city and mainly produces chemicals for adhesives and paints, Xinhua said. It is owned by Guangxi Guangwei Chemical Co.
Thousands die each year in China from fires, explosions and other industrial accidents often blamed on insufficient safety equipment and workers ignoring safety rules.
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