Developing Story: Blast at Thai factory kills one, mass evacuation under way

A Buddha statue is seen as smoke billows from an explosion and fire at a plastics factory in Bangkok on July 5, 2021 [Lillian Suwanrumpha/ AFP]
A Buddha statue is seen as smoke billows from an explosion and fire at a plastics factory in Bangkok

A huge explosion and a fire at a factory on the outskirts of the Thai capital has killed at least one person and wounded 29 others, according to officials.

The blast occurred at about 3am on Monday (20:00 GMT Sunday) at a foam and plastic pallet manufacturing factory just outside Bangkok near the city’s main Suvarnabhumi international airport.

It could be heard for kilometers and surveillance footage from a nearby house captured the bright flash and boom, followed by the damage to the home and the one next door from the shockwaves.

“At first it felt like lightning. After that, I heard something drop loudly, and for a while the house started shaking like there was an earthquake,” said Baitong Nisarat, a resident. Local disaster authorities said 70 houses were damaged and the blazes were still being fought 10 hours after the explosion.

Firefighters could be seen in photos from Thai media climbing through twisted steel wreckage of the Ming Dih complex’s warehouses to get their hoses close enough to the flames as they fought to control the blaze. The charred body of the only fatality identified so far, a male volunteer rescue worker, lay face down among the wreckage.

Other photos showed nearby homes with their windows blown out and wreckage in the streets, with black smoke billowing over the area. The cause of the blast had yet to be determined. Volunteer rescue worker Anyawut Phoampai told Thailand public TV station TPBS that early attempts to find people possibly still in the factory were hampered by the huge flames. “The flames are quite high so it takes quite an effort,” he said as the rescue effort was under way.

“Rescuers also are spreading out because we receive calls for people who have injuries from the explosion from the extended area, one or two streets away from here. There are reports of falling debris, injuries from debris impacts on peoples heads,” he added. Residents in Samut Prakan province who live within a five-kilometre (3.1-mile) radius of the factory, owned by a Taiwanese company, were being evacuated amid concerns over poisonous fumes from burning chemicals and the possibility of additional detonations.

Chailit Suwannakitpong, a local disaster prevention official, told the Associated Press news agency that a huge tank containing the chemical styrene monomer was continuing to burn. The substance is a hazardous liquid chemical used in the production of disposable foam plates, cups and other products, and can produce poisonous fumes when ignited.

The chemical itself also emits styrene gas, a neurotoxin, which can immobilize people within minutes of inhalation and can be fatal at high concentrations. The Ming Dih factory is located about 4.8 km (2.98 miles) from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, the airport said flights and its operations were not affected by the blast.

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