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 Taiwan

Gas Blasts Kill 25, Injure 267 in Taiwan

Bodies are seen covered after an explosion in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan
Bodies are seen covered after an explosion in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, on Aug. 1, 2014 Stringer Taiwan—Reuters

A series of underground gas explosions killed 25 people and injured 267 others late on Thursday in Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second-largest city

(KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan) — At least 25 people were killed and 267 injured when underground gas explosions ripped through Taiwan’s second-largest city, hurling concrete and cars through the air and blasting long trenches in the streets, authorities said Friday, as they searched for the cause.

The series of five explosions about midnight Thursday and early Friday struck a densely populated district where petrochemical companies operates pipelines alongside the sewer system in Kaohsiung, a southwestern port with 2.8 million people.

Firefighters called to the neighborhood in the late evening to investigate a gas leak were among the victims when the blasts went off hours later, upending at least six fire trucks in the rubble of pavement and dirt.

Four firefighters were among the 25 dead as well as some of 267 people injured, the National Fire Agency said. The death toll could rise, because many of the seriously injured were still being treated, officials said.

Three people also were reported missing in the disaster, Taiwan’s second in as many weeks following a plane crash that killed 48 people on July 23.

“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 10 buildings away from the main explosion site.

The fires were believed caused by a leak of propene, a petrochemical material not intended for public use, but the cause and source of the leak were not immediately clear, officials said.

The exploded gas line belongs to government-owned CPC Corp., which told The Associated Press it showed no signs of problems before the explosions. CPC officials at the scene Friday declined to offer information about reasons for the blasts.

Video from the TVBS broadcaster showed residents searching for victims in shattered storefronts and rescuers pulling injured people from the rubble of a road and placing them on stretchers while passersby helped other victims on a sidewalk. Broadcaster ETTV showed rows of large fires sending smoke into the night sky.

Chang Jia-juch, the director of the Central Disaster Emergency Operation Center, said the leaking gas was most likely to be propene. The source of the leak was unknown. Chang said, however, that propene was not for public use, and that it was a petrochemical material.

One of the fires, along a 10-meter (33-foot) stretch of gas line, was still burning into midday Friday, the National Fire Agency says on its website.

The government’s disaster response center said it was trying to prevent any knock-on gas explosions in the same place or nearby.

“In terms of what we can prevent, we’re afraid another explosion could happen, as there is that possibility,” said Hsu Lee-hao, an economics affairs ministry section chief staffing the disaster response center. “We’re afraid it could be in the same place or elsewhere.”

Most of the injured were people outside on the street, often hit by rubble blown toward them or crushed by cars sent flying in the blasts, a police officer at the scene said. Police and firefighters were burned while trying to control blazes.

“I wanted to check on my friend working in the night market, but she was hit by rubble and is now still in the hospital,” said Chang Bi-chu, 63, the door to whose house was warped by one of the blasts. “On the way I saw dead bodies. I felt really bad. After all there was just the air crash in Penghu last week.”

A TransAsia Airways prop jet that took off from Kaohsiung crashed July 23 while trying to land in stormy weather in an archipelago in the Taiwan Strait. The crash killed 48 people and injured 10.

“The power is cut off in my house, there is no light and the fan doesn’t work,” Chang added. “We don’t have money to stay in a hotel and they’re all booked anyway.”

Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu said several petrochemical companies have pipelines built along the sewage system in Chian-Chen district, which has both factories and residential buildings. She warned people Friday to stay away.

“We have an intersection . that’s still burning,” Chen said at an emergency government meeting broadcast on television. She called the explosions Kaohsiung’s worst gas-related accident in 10 years. “The city of Kaohsiung has opened nine relief shelters. We hope people can first evacuate to a safe place.”

More than 1,100 had evacuated overnight.

Rescue workers expected to find few, if any, people in the rubble because no buildings collapsed, Hsu in the disaster response center said.

When police officers and firefighters investigated the major leak on Kaixuan Road Thursday evening, they could not block it because they had not identified the source of gas. Those authorities were closest to the fire during the first explosion and therefore suffered burns.

People killed and injured elsewhere were standing, walking or driving in the streets, which are near a night market. On Friday afternoon, paramedics and a rescue dog combed the neighborhood for survivors.

Power supplies to 12,000 people in the area were severed, and 23,600 lost gas service.

The fire department received reports from residents of gas leakage at about 8:46 p.m., and the explosions started around midnight.

Closed-circuit television showed an explosion rippling through the floor of a motorcycle parking area, hurling concrete and other debris through the air. Mobile phone video captured the sound of an explosion as flames leapt at least 9 meters (30 feet) into the air.

One witness said he tried to help before paramedics arrived.

“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, 49, owner of a car repair shop in the disaster area.

“There was still fire nearby. I tried to pull the guy out but couldn’t,” he said. “Only after the smoke was gone did I realize there was such a big hole in the middle of the road.”

The explosions left large trenches of up to a meter deep running down the centers of four of the hardest-hit roads. The trenches were littered with soot-covered cars and pieces of pipe and edged with pavement slabs torn apart by the blasts. Burnt walls and toppled signs of shops lined Sanduo Road, near an elementary school.

The blasts affected an area of two to three square kilometers, much of it sealed off.

___

Associated Press writers Ralph Jennings in Taipei, and Gillian Wong and Ian Mader in Beijing contributed.

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

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