At least 31 people were killed and seven others injured in a gas explosion at a barbecue restaurant in Yinchuan city in northwestern China’s Ningxia region, state media said on Wednesday night.
According to government CCTV, the blaze was caused by a leak in the liquefied gas tank inside the restaurant and occurred around 8:40 pm.
The condition of one of the seven injured still remains serious. Another six are being treated in hospital for minor injuries, burns and cut windows.
Local firefighters sent 20 vehicles and 100 people to the scene, and the search and rescue operation continued until 4 a.m. Thursday.
Photos published in state media show what looks like a damaged building. The exterior is charred, the floor is strewn with debris, and smoke billows into the air. Firefighters can be seen climbing a ladder to the second floor and loading people onto stretchers.
The Yinchuan government said in a statement posted online on Thursday that inquiries from police and fire personnel at the scene revealed that two restaurant workers had smelled gas about an hour before the explosion.
Two employees found that the gas cylinder valve was broken and sent another employee to buy a new valve. There was an explosion when the valve was being changed.
State media reported that the restaurant is located on a busy street.
According to state media China Youth Daily, police detained nine people, including restaurant managers, employees and shareholders, and confiscated their assets.
State broadcaster CCTV reported on Thursday that Chinese President Xi Jinping called the incident “heartbreaking” and a “profound lesson”.
Xi Jinping said that it is necessary to treat the injured, console the families of the victims and determine the cause of the accident as soon as possible. He also directed relevant government officials to conduct a security risk review and strengthen security supervision in key areas, reported CCTV.
The incident comes just before China begins a three-day national holiday from Thursday to Saturday to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival.
There is a noise of various security accidents across the country this year. In February a coal mine collapse in Inner Mongolia killed 53 people. Then in April, Beijing’s worst fire in 20 years killed 29 people in hospitals.