Following a gas explosion at a barbecue restaurant on Wednesday night, state media reports that at least 31 people are dead and seven injured in the Chinese city of Yinchuan, located in the northwest Ningxia region.
According to state broadcaster CCTV, the explosion was caused by a liquified petrol tank leak inside the restaurant and occurred around 8:40 p.m.
One of the seven injured is still in critical condition. The other six are in the hospital being treated for minor injuries, burns, and glass cuts.
According to state media, local fire authorities dispatched 20 vehicles and more than 100 personnel to the scene, with search and rescue operations lasting until 4 a.m. Thursday.
Photos posted by state media show the damaged building, with blackened exteriors, debris on the ground and smoke in the air. Firefighters are seen entering the second floor on a ladder and lifting people out on stretchers.
Interviews by police and firefighters on the scene established that two restaurant staffers had smelled gas about an hour before the explosion, the Yinchuan government said in a statement posted online Thursday.
The two staffers found the valve of the gas tank had broken, and sent another staff member to buy a new one, according to the statement. The explosion took place as the valve was being replaced.
The restaurant is located on a busy street, state media reported.
Police have detained nine people and frozen their assets, including the restaurant’s manager, employees and shareholders, according to state media China Youth Daily.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping called the incident “heartbreaking,” and said it was a “profound lesson,” state broadcaster CCTV reported Thursday.
Xi added that it is imperative to treat the wounded and comfort the victims’ families, and to find out the cause of the accident as soon as possible. He also ordered relevant government authorities to carry out a safety risk review and strengthen safety supervision in key sectors, CCTV reported.
The incident came just before China began its three-day national public holiday, from Thursday to Saturday, marking the Dragon Boat Festival.
The country has been rocked by a number of safety incidents this year. A coal mine collapse in Inner Mongolia in February left 53 dead; then in April, the deadliest fire to hit Beijing in two decades killed 29 people in a hospital.