The death toll climbed to 64 in one of the worst industrial accidents of China in recent times which knocked down buildings, tossed children into the air and caused a tremor equivalent to a magnitude-3.0 earthquake, officials said Saturday.
The officials said that 24 others were missing.
The explosion occurred after a fire in the fertilizer factory in Jiangsu province on Thursday, according to the government of Xiangshui county.
Thirty-four people were in a critical condition and 73 seriously injured, state-run China Daily reported.
The death toll is expected to rise as several people have been critically injured.
Over 640 people were injured in the incident.
More than 3,000 workers and around 1,000 residents have been relocated to safe places. The Ministry of Emergency Management said that 88 people were rescued from the scene.
Such is the scale of the devastation that the entire industrial park in the Yancheng resembled an area struck by a massive earthquake with almost all buildings demolished in one go.
It is the worst industrial accident since the massive explosion rocked the port area of Tianjin in 2015 in which 173 people were killed.
The China earthquake centre reported an earthquake of 3.0 magnitude during the time of the blast.
An aerial video posted by China Daily which provided the first detailed view of the area showed shocking images of the blast which has destroyed the entire neighbourhood, causing extensive damage showcasing the destructive side of China’s unbridled industrial development.
Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical plant, where the blast took place, was flattened and 16 neighbouring factories were left with varying degrees of damage. The impact smashed windows and uprooted roofs of some buildings and reduced others to rubble.
Officials claimed that the rivers outside the chemical industrial park were not polluted.
Executives of the chemical plant have been taken into police custody.
Schools and kindergartens had been closed while the authorities monitored air and water quality, an official said.
Since Friday, injured people began streaming into the emergency ward at Xiangshui People’s Hospital one of the biggest in Xiangshui county, about 300 km north of Shanghai, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Saturday.
Survivors of the devastating chemical plant blast in eastern China told media that they had seen giant fireballs exploding and children being shot into the air by the force of the blast.
As rescuers continued to search for survivors following the explosion, those caught up in the “earth-shattering” said that people living 10 km away from the blast site had been left choking on toxic clouds.
Wang Xinfang said shards of glass from the windows had been “falling like rain” in a village six kms away from the plant. She had been out shopping at the time of the explosion and immediately run out of the store, the Post report said.
She later found one member of her family crushed in the rubble of their home near the site while her house, in the neighbouring village of Haianju, suffered extensive damage.
Li Hongmei, a hotel owner from Chenjiagang, said she had seen a three-year-old boy being thrown into the air by the force of the shockwave that left him visibly terrified.
Gao Congbiao from Shadang village, 6 km away from the plant, had been working on his land when he saw a “big fireball exploding into wild flames” and said the “earth-shattering” blast had left his home and farmland seriously damaged.
Gao, a member of a local Christian congregation, said many of the windows at his church had been blown out, forcing the group to cancel their regular Friday prayer meeting.
He said the flames rose to height of around four storeys and then triggered a chain of explosions, by setting off a nearby benzol storage tank.
“I was standing along the wall and my helmet was immediately blown away,” the worker told Caixin.com.
“After the second explosion, the road was full of people running for their lives,” the Post quoted him as saying.
Some survivors of the blast told how they had been left trapped in the wreckage and had to endure an agonising wait to be rescued.
Wang Qiang was in a meeting 300 metres from the plant when the blast rocked the building and left him buried under a pile of rubble in what used to be the conference room.
While President Xi Jinping has urged all-out rescue efforts, the central cabinet has ordered an inquiry.
Xi, who is in Europe on an official tour, said that all-out efforts must be made to search those trapped, and the injured must be timely treated and relief work must be well carried out to maintain social stability.
Xi ordered that the cause of the accident must be identified as early as possible and that authoritative information should be timely released.
The fire fighter brigade of Jiangsu has mobilised 176 fire trucks with 928 personnel to join the rescue mission, the Ministry of Emergency Management said.