The blast in Kunshan, a city in the eastern province of Jiangsu near Shanghai, “has resulted in 65 deaths”, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said, citing official sources.
“We heard the explosion and we were all shocked,” a security guard from a nearby factory who declined to be named told AFP. He said the blast occurred as workers were changing shifts, resulting in higher casualties.
Graphic photographs posted online showed a charred body being wheeled on a stretcher, and people with burned clothing sitting on the ground outside a factory complex that was billowing black smoke.
Preliminary investigations show that the blast was caused by dust produced as workers polished metal meeting with high temperatures or an open flame, China’s ministry of public security said on a verified microblogging account.
More than 150 people were injured when a “powerful blast ripped through” the factory, beginning at a wheel hub polishing workshop, China’s official Xinhua news agency said.
“The scene is a mess, it’s unrecognisable,” a witness at the scene wrote on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
– Industrial accidents common –
Police officers sealed off the area around the factory, part of a development zone in northeast Kunshan, about 75 kilometers (46 miles) west of China’s commercial hub Shanghai.
The firm identified by CCTV, Taiwanese-owned Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products Ltd. says on its website it employs 450 workers.
Forty people were killed on the scene, while more than 20 others died in hospital, the broadcaster added, showing footage of a huge plume of black smoke.
Neither the company nor a spokeswoman for General Motors in China were immediately available for comment.
Medical staff have been sent from China’s commercial hub Shanghai to treat burns victims, the People’s Daily added in an online post.
Jiangsu province is located on China’s coast. Many local and foreign companies have facilities there producing goods for export.
Kunshan is a centre for Taiwanese investment, with factories supplying China’s vast automotive manufacturing industry.
The blast comes two days after at least 26 people were killed in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung in a suspected gas pipeline explosion.
A pipeline explosion in the Chinese coastal city of Qingdao last year killed 62 people and injured 136