TIME Taiwan

Taiwan’s Crippling Gas Explosion Caught On Camera

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Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, is currently in a state of disarray due to blasts caused by a gas explosion. The number of casualties has now surpassed 250, with bodies continuing to be discovered as the day progresses.

Eruptions began around midnight Thursday and continued into the morning Friday. Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA) announced that residents had been reporting smells of leaking gas to authorities prior to the explosions.

Investigations are currently underway to uncover how the blasts could have occurred and who was responsible. It is currently assumed that the cause was underground gas leaks from petrochemical pipelines built alongside the city’s sewer system.

TIME Taiwan

Gas Explosions Kill 25 in Taiwan

Evacuees began returning home Friday

A series of five underground gas explosions tore apart Taiwan’s second-largest city late Thursday, killing at least 25 people and injuring 267.

Officials said they believed the explosions that blasted cars and concrete into the air and ripped trenches through four streets in a busy district of Kaohsiung were caused by a leak of propene—a petrochemical material that is not intended for public use. The city’s Environmental Protection Bureau director told Taiwan’s Central News Agency that the propene came from a warehouse used by the petrochemical storage and transportation company China General Terminal & Distribution Corp. The gas lines that exploded belonged to the government-owned CPC Corp., which told the Associated Press the lines should no signs of trouble prior to the explosions.

“I was on my scooter just across the street, suddenly there was the explosion, a white car was blown toward me, and I saw the driver trapped in the car,” said Wong Zhen-yao,who owns a car repair shop near the site of the blasts.

At least four firefighters were among the victims of the explosions.

About 12,000 lost power due to the blasts and more than 23,000 lost gas service.

An estimated 1,200 people evacuated affected areas of the city of 2.8 million Thursday night, most of whom have since returned to their homes. Cleanup is underway as authorities try to determine the details of what happened in the disaster.

[AP]

TIME

Relatives Fly to Taiwan Plane-Crash Site, 48 Dead

TAIWAN-AVIATION-ACCIDENT
Rescue workers and firefighters search through the wreckage where a TransAsia Airways flight crashed the night before near the airport at Magong on the Penghu island chain on July 24, 2014 Sam Yeh—AFP/Getty Images

The TransAsia Airways plane from southern Taiwan crashed into a residential neighborhood on Penghu, an island chain in the Taiwan Strait, killing 48 of the 58 passengers on board. The aircraft unsuccessfully attempted to land in stormy weather late on Wednesday

(TAIPEI, Taiwan) — Family members of victims of a plane crash were flying to the small Taiwanese island on Thursday where the plane had unsuccessfully attempted to land in stormy weather, killing 48. There were 10 survivors, and authorities were searching for one person who might have been in a wrecked house on the ground.

The ATR-72 operated by Taiwan’s TransAsia Airways was carrying 58 passengers and crew when it crashed into a residential neighborhood on Penghu in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China late Wednesday, authorities said. The plane was on a flight from the city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.

Two people aboard the plane were French citizens and the rest Taiwanese, Transport Minister Yeh Kuang-shih told reporters. The government’s Central News Agency identified the French passengers Thursday as Jeromine Deramond and Penelope Luternauer.

The twin-engine turboprop crashed while making a second landing attempt, Yeh said.

The news agency quoted a TransAsia Airways statement as saying family members had taken a charter flight on Thursday morning to Magong airport, near where the crash happened.

The crash of Flight GE222 was Taiwan’s first fatal air accident in 12 years and came after Typhoon Matmo passed across the island, causing heavy rains that continued into Wednesday night. About 200 airline flights had been canceled earlier in the day due to rain and strong winds.

The official death toll was 48, according to Wen Chia-hung, spokesman for the Penghu disaster response center. He said the 10 other people were injured.

Authorities were looking for one person who might have been in a house that was struck by wreckage, Wen said.

President Ma Ying-jeou called it “a very sad day in the history of Taiwanese aviation,” according to a spokesman for his office, Ma Wei-kuo, the Central News Agency reported. The agency said the plane’s captain had 22 years of flying experience and the co-pilot had 2-1/2 years. The airline was offering the family of each victim about $6,600 and paying another $27,000 for funeral expenses, the agency reported.

The plane came down in the village of Xixi outside the airport. Television stations showed rescue workers pulling bodies from the wreckage. Photos in local media showed firefighters using flashlights to look through the wreckage and buildings damaged by debris.

Penghu, a scenic chain of 64 islets, is a popular tourist site about 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.

Residents said they heard thunder and then what sounded like an explosion, the news agency said. It cited the Central Weather Bureau as saying there were thunderstorms in the area.

“I heard a loud bang,” a local resident was quoted as saying by television station TVBS. “I thought it was thunder, and then I heard another bang and I saw a fireball not far away from my house.”

The flight left Kaohsiung at 4:53 p.m. for Magong on Penghu, according to the head of Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration, Jean Shen. The plane lost contact with the tower at 7:06 p.m. after saying it would make a second landing attempt.

Visibility as the plane approached was 1,600 meters (one mile), which met standards for landing, and two flights had landed before GE222, one at 5:34 p.m. and the other at 6:57 p.m., the aviation agency reported. Shen said the plane was 14 years old.

The Central News Agency, citing the county fire department, said it appeared heavy rain reduced visibility and the pilot was forced to pull up and attempt a second landing.

The Central Weather Bureau had warned of heavy rain Wednesday evening, even after the center of the storm had moved west to mainland China.

In Taipei, TransAsia Airways’ general manager, Hsu Yi-Tsung, bowed deeply before reporters and tearfully apologized for the accident, the news agency said.

“As TransAsia is responsible for this matter, we apologize. We apologize,” Hsu said.

Taiwan’s last major aviation disaster was also near Penghu. In 2002, a China Airlines Boeing 747 broke apart in midair and crashed into the Taiwan Strait, killing all 225 people aboard.

___

Associated Press writers Gillian Wong, Joe McDonald and Louise Watt in Beijing and Johnson Lai in Taipei contributed to this report.

TIME movies

VIDEO: The Real Burt of Burt’s Bees Gets Mobbed by Fans in Taiwan

A new documentary goes behind the iconic lip balm

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When filmmaker Jody Shapiro got ready to shoot one particular sequence for his new documentary, he told the crew to watch the opening scene of A Hard Day’s Night, the classic cinematic representation of extreme fan mania.

As is clear in the special preview clip above, available early via TIME, that recommendation wasn’t without reason — except the person being mobbed by fans, shown here at an airport in Taiwan, isn’t a Beatle. It’s Burt Shavitz. If you recognize him, it’s probably from the woodcut of his face that has adorned the packaging of Burt’s Bees products for years.

Shavitz, a Mainer who has led a life that’s nothing if not unusual, is the subject of Burt’s Buzz (in theaters and VOD June 6), a look at the life of the man who started it all. He’s been a photographer, a journalist, an environmentalist, a beekeeper — and, apparently, an icon. In fact, it was hearing about what had happened during Shavitz’s prior business trips to the area and an upcoming trip to Taiwan, where Shavitz was traveling as a spokesperson for the brand, that convinced Shapiro to turn his lens toward his subject. “I’d heard about the screaming girls at the airport and I’d heard about the lines around the block, and I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to go deeper into the story,” Shapiro tells TIME. Even so, his expectations for a celeb-worthy reception were exceeded.

To Shavitz, however, being a celebrity is neither here nor there. He guesses in the film that part of the reason he gets such enthusiastic responses from fans of the product is that it’s unusual for a picture on a tube of face product to be of a real guy. But the moment that was caught on film was just one of many for him, and it’s been going on for years. “All the world’s a stage,” he tells TIME. “I never stopped to think about it. It was immaterial as far as I was concerned.”

As the movie makes clear, what interests him most isn’t being famous — it’s getting home to his dog.

TIME Bizarre

This Man on a Scooter Who Fell into a Manhole Is Having a Worse Day than You

Think you're having a case of the Mondays? Watch this.

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Some people have all the luck. Other’s accidentally ride their scooters directly into open manholes. Police dashcams have been known to capture some pretty ridiculous moments, this snapshot of a commuter’s unfortunate traffic misadventure on a rural road in Taiwan now joins the ranks.

(h/t: Metro)

TIME Asia

The Occupation of Taiwan’s Parliament Ends Today, but the Struggles Do Not

Student leaders bow to supporters during a news conference at Taiwan's legislative Yuan, the island's parliament, in Taipei on April 7, 2014 Reuters

Students protesting a trade deal with China have agreed to relinquish their occupation of Taiwan’s parliament on Thursday, but tensions remain as legislators struggle to balance boosting a flagging economy with an entrenched distrust of the People’s Republic

No one, not even the student protesters, expected to so thoroughly take over the island’s parliament on March 19. Once they had shattered the glass doors at the entrance and streamed by the hundreds into the voting chamber, only a thin detail of unarmed guards blocked their way. Shannon Chen, 22, didn’t find the lax security all that surprising. “Welcome to Taiwan,” she says with a shrug. In fairness, she says, no protest movement had ever attempted to occupy legislature.

President Ma Ying-jeou enraged the demonstrators three weeks ago when he decided to fast-track a vote on a trade pact with China, bypassing a parliamentary committee that was supposed to vet the terms of the agreement line by line. Demonstrators fear the deal could make Taiwan more susceptible to China’s influence.

“This thing comes from nowhere, and nobody knows what the hell is going on,” says Huang Tze-bin, a 24-year-old doctoral candidate who entered the building by scaling a ladder to a second-floor window.

Now they will hand back control of the building at 6 p.m local time on Thursday, after parliamentary speaker Wang Jin-pyng agreed to shelve debate on the bill — signed in June last year but yet to be ratified by lawmakers — until new legislation is enacted to hammer down oversight of all deals with China.

“It’s time for us to return this movement to broader Taiwan society, where we will continue the struggle,” protest leader Chen Wei-ting told an enthralled crowd.

Few would have expected such a victory.

“It was chaos,” says Shannon Chen, who moonlights as spokesperson for the encampment. The power went out. The air conditioners were shut off. Every two hours, a rumor would spread through the room that the police were returning, sending protesters scrambling toward the doors. At other times, they milled around the chamber, unsure of what to do next. “We thought we would be kicked out the first night,” says Cindy Lee, 27. “I was shocked.”

Taiwan and mainland China have been at loggerheads since 1949, when U.S.-backed nationalist forces, led by Chiang Kai-shek, retreated across the strait from Mao Zedong’s Red Army. These days, the People’s Republic is unlikely to take back Taiwan by force, but officials in Beijing still hanker after greater influence over this “renegade province” through shrewdly vitalizing business ties.

“People worry about whether there will be a reunification that subtly emerges between the two sides,” Liao Da-chi, a professor of political science at Taiwan’s National Sun Yat-sen University, tells TIME. “The issue is a political one and not really economic.”

These fears are evident in the protest art that now adorns the legislature’s walls. Wen Hsin, 21, a fine-arts student, takes a break from carving messages of defiance to point out her favorite art installation, a painting leaning against the main lectern, commemorating the takeover of the parliament three weeks earlier. “I like it because it captures the movement in history,” she says.

Tensions with authorities have dissipated since the initial occupation, largely owing to the protesters’ orderly conduct, for the most part, and an emphasis on constructive negotiations. Occupiers began organizing committees to manage not only supplies, but also medical care, security, media and even arts and crafts. “I’m like everyone’s mother,” says Lee, a media consultant who oversees the dissemination of food, water, toothbrushes, towels and any other supplies hauled into the chamber. “It’s like a summer camp.”

Despite the agreement to relinquish control, the specter of fresh conflict is never far away. No less than seven different versions of the legislative-scrutiny proposals have been put forward by the executive, students and various civil-society groups. “The contents are so different,” says Liao. “There are a lot of different opinions.”

Taiwan has seen better days, and the trade-services pact — opening 64 of Taiwan’s service sectors to China and 80 the other way — was supposed to boost a flagging economy, bringing in some 12,000 jobs, according to President Ma. Some see irrational prejudice against the world’s second largest economy jeopardizing prosperity, others deem it as the thin edge of a wedge.

“We signed several free-trade agreements with New Zealand, nobody took any action to oppose them,” says Liao. “If we put political concerns aside, [the proposed China trade pact] was certainly a benefit to Taiwan more [than the mainland].”

That is not to say sympathy for the protesters was lacking. An estimated half a million gathered in support of the so-called Sunflower Movement on April 1. An open call for lozenges, to treat sore throats from days of shouting and singing inside parliament, was met with a shipment of 100 boxes, says Lee. Distrust of China will continue to be weighed against demands for jobs and social programs, a combination that necessitates conflict. “The government still wants to pass the pact,” says Liao. “There are still a lot of struggles going on.”

TIME Taiwan

Taiwanese Students Carry Out Epic Occupation of Parliament

Protesters, including many students, continue their occupation of Taiwan's main legislature, demonstrating against a new trade pact that would strengthen ties with China

TIME Taiwan

The ‘Battle of Taipei’ Shows Just How Wary of China Young Taiwanese Are

Riot police clash with student protesters outside Taiwan's cabinet offices in Taipei on March 24, 2014. Clashes erupted after Taiwan's President refused to scrap a contentious trade agreement with China and denounced the "illegal" occupation of government buildings by students opposed to its ratification
Riot police clash with student protesters outside Taiwan's cabinet offices in Taipei on March 24, 2014. Clashes erupted after Taiwan's President refused to scrap a contentious trade agreement with China and denounced the "illegal" occupation of government buildings by students opposed to its ratification Lam Yik Fei—Getty Images

Riot police are sent in to evict anti-trade-pact protesters occupying the government headquarters

Correction appended: March 25, 2014

Taipei police used batons and water cannons to clear protesters from Taiwan’s government headquarters Monday morning. A group of several hundred demonstrators had been occupying Cabinet offices Sunday night as part of a student-led movement against a trade pact with China. The mostly student protesters say the deal hands too much influence to China, is undemocratic and will hurt the island. The government insists it is an economic imperative. By early Monday, people were being pulled from the premises. At least 58 were arrested and 137 were injured, reports the Associated Press.

The scenes of violence seem out of place — for the movement, and for modern-day Taiwan. The student-led campaign gained momentum last week, when a group of demonstrators occupied the parliament in Taipei. They are pushing for a further review of the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), a deal that will open certain service sectors to investment from China, and vice versa. The demonstrators spent much of the past week gathered around the parliament chanting and waving colorful cardboard signs. They are mostly young, and their methods largely peaceful. Their emblem is a sunflower, symbol of hope.

The bloody scene in Taipei harks back to a different, darker era. On Feb. 28, 1947, the nationalist Kuomintang, violently suppressed antigovernment protests, killing over 10,000. Almost four decades of martial law followed. It was not until 1986 that an opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party, emerged and a democracy slowly took root.

Taiwan’s democracy has deepened and grown since, giving rise to a political culture in which people take seriously their right to vote and protest. To some Chinese, particularly in Hong Kong and Macau, Taiwan is a model. The island’s 2012 presidential poll was closely watched by both Special Administrative Regions. At polling stations in downtown Taipei, I met election tourists who had flown from Hong Kong to see what they called a “preview” of Chinese democracy in action.

China and Taiwan have been at odds since 1949, when retreating nationalist forces fled across the strait. The People’s Republic still sees Taiwan as a renegade province and holds out hope for unification, even by force. (Should that happen, the U.S. would be bound, by a congressional act, to help Taiwan.) Taiwan’s current President, Ma Ying-jeou, swept to power in 2008 promising to deepen ties with China and was re-elected in 2012. His push for economic integration has seen cross-strait trade and tourism rise. It has also made him deeply unpopular among certain segments of the population.

To the young people and opposition-party supporters gathered in Taipei, TiSA is another step toward China, and a step too far. They also worry that this latest round of economic liberalization will hurt small and medium-size businesses on the island. More fundamentally, they see TiSA as a sign of Sinification and worry that President Ma and the governing party, Kuomintang, are to keen to trade away the island’s hard-earned, democratic gains.

President Ma and his government say the trade deal will bolster the economy and keep Taiwan competitive with countries like South Korea. Addressing demonstrators on Sunday, he applauded their passion but questioned the decision to occupy government offices. “Is this the sort of democracy we want?” he asked. “Must the rule of law be sacrificed in such a manner? Do we not take pride in our democracy and our respect for rule of law?”

The battle for Taipei has no doubt caught the attention of officials and ordinary people across the Taiwan Strait. The ruling Chinese Communist Party tightly controls the press and censors discussion of sensitive subjects, including Taiwan, from the country’s widely popular microblogs, so the reaction has been somewhat muted. A few applauded the students. Most posts that made it through the censors were critical: “This isn’t the democracy we want,” was the refrain.

But it is Taiwan’s democracy, for better and for worse. And, as the past week’s events show, young Taiwanese will fight for it.

An earlier version of this article misidentified the site cleared of protesters by the police. It was the government headquarters, not the parliament.

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