Five explosions ripped through four streets starting around midnight Thursday, catapulting cars into the air and blasting cement rubble at passers-by, many of whom were out late because of a nearby night market.
Four firefighters were among the victims and two were missing, while at least six fire trucks were flung into the rubble. The blasts sent flames shooting into the sky and hurled concrete through the air, leaving broad, yard-deep trenches down the middle of roads.
A destroyed fire truck is seen overturned in the rubble. City streets were transformed into trenches strewn with dirt, ripped pieces of pipe, jagged blocks of concrete and twisted soot-covered cars.
A caved-in street. Multiple underground explosions blew up several roads.
An aerial view shows the damage.
A man surveys the damage. Most of the four ruptured street sections in the densely populated district of Kaohsiung had been declared safe from further explosions by afternoon, a city spokesman said.
"Last night around midnight, the house started shaking and I thought it was a huge earthquake, but when I opened the door, I saw white smoke all over and smelled gas," said Chen Qing-tao, 38, who lives a short distance from the devastation.
An aerial view shows a street destroyed by the explosions, which affected an area of more than one square mile.
The explosions were believed caused by leaking propene, a petrochemical material not intended for public use, said Chang Jia-juch, director of the Central Disaster Emergency Operation Center. Chang said the cause and location of the leaks were unknown.
Relatives of victims console each other at a funeral parlor. Rescuers expected to find few, if any, people in the rubble because no buildings collapsed, said Hsu Lee-hao, a national emergency operations center official.
-- The Associated Press