Survivors of the devastating chemical plant blast in eastern China told on Friday how they had seen giant fireballs exploding and children being shot into the air by the force of the blast.
As rescuers continued to search for survivors following Thursday's explosion in Jiangsu province, those caught up in the "earth-shattering" blast recounted the scenes of destruction that they had witnessed in its aftermath and said that people living 10km away from the blast site had been left choking on toxic clouds.
The explosion nearly flattened an industrial estate next to the plant in Yancheng city and caused extensive damage to other nearby buildings, including offices and factories.
Wang Xinfang said shards of glass from the windows had been "falling like rain" in a village 6km away from the plant. She had been out shopping at the time of the explosion and had immediately run out of the store to escape the falling debris and flying glass.
She later found one member of her family crushed dead in the rubble of their home near the site while her own house, in the neighbouring village of Haianju, had suffered damage to the walls and roof.
Li Hongmei, a hotel owner from Chenjiagang, said she had seen a three-year-old boy being thrown into the air by the force of the shock wave that had left him visibly terrified.
Her five-year-old grandson was also shocked by the blast and could not stop crying after seeing his clothes and toys destroyed.
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Gao Congbiao, from Shadang village 6km away from the plant, had been working on his land when he saw a "big fireball exploding into wild flames" and said the "earth-shattering" blast had left his home and farmland seriously damaged.
Gao, a member of a local Christian congregation, said many of the windows at his church had been blown out, forcing the group to cancel their regular Friday prayer meeting.
The blast killed at least 64 people and injured 640 more. The death toll was expected to rise over the weekend due to the serious injuries suffered by some of those caught in the blast.
One worker at the Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Plant, where the explosion occurred, told the media that it had been caused when a tanker delivering natural gas had caught fire.
He said the flames had risen to height of around four storeys and then triggered a chain of explosions, by setting off a nearby benzol storage tank.
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"I was standing along the wall and my helmet was immediately blown away," the worker told Caixin.com.
"After the second explosion, the road was full of people running for their lives," he added.
Another worker said his wife had been injured in the blast and he had to carry her in a wheel barrow to a group of firefighters who were able to take her to hospital.
He said that window panes had been shattered into tiny pieces the size of a grain of rice by the blast.
"How strong the shock wave was," he continued, saying that he feared people who had been working in some of the buildings that suffered serious damage were in "great danger".
Some survivors of the blast told how they had been left trapped in the wreckage and had to endure an agonising wait to be rescued.
Wang Qiang had been in a meeting at an office 300 metres from the plant when the blast rocked the building and left him buried under a pile of rubble in what had been the conference room.
He told The Beijing News that his only thought was to tell his wife and other family members how much he loved them.
With a considerable effort he was able to take out his phone, which he was able to locate when a colleague called to find out how he was, and sent her a text message that read: "Darling, I love you. I love you and all of my family members."
His wife Wang Xue then called him back and he was able to tell her that he had been trapped by the explosion.
She immediately left the family's home in Jinan, a city in Shandong some 550km away, and drove to Yancheng to be with her husband.
By the time she arrived at the scene in the early hours of the morning, her husband had been pulled from the rubble.
"Half of his head was covered in blood when I saw him at the hospital," Wang Xue told the newspaper. Her husband had suffered a fractured eye socket and extensive bruising, but was in a stable condition.
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