2 more Chinese children die in fireworks blast

Fatal explosion at house comes within weeks of deadly accident at school

March 21, 2001|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING - Less than two weeks after a schoolhouse exploded killing at least three dozen children, two more children have died in a fireworks-related explosion in Central China's Anhui province.

On Saturday afternoon, a girl and boy playing with matches ignited explosives used to make firecrackers in a house in Golden Bridge village, according to a local government employee who gave only his surname of Zhang.

The explosion killed Tang Li and her cousin, Liu Hai, both 5, according to a villager who gave her surname of Huang. The blast destroyed most of the second floor of two homes in Golden Bridge, a farming community of 20,000 about 15 miles southwest of Hefei, Anhui's capital.

Earlier this month, more than 40 people - most of them children - died in an explosion in an elementary school in Jiangxi province, south of Anhui. The victims' parents blamed the blast on teachers who they said had used children to make firecrackers during class. Fireworks manufacturing is a cottage industry in that part of Jiangxi.

The government initially dismissed the claims and blamed the explosion on a lone, mad bomber. Last week, under pressure from foreign and domestic news reports quoting furious parents, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji acknowledged that the school had made fireworks in the past but was not doing so at the time of the blast.

Golden Bridge residents said yesterday that fireworks manufacturing was not common in their village. But Zhang, the government employee, said that some families make fireworks secretly in their homes.

Sohu.com, one of China's leading Internet portals, broke the story yesterday.

Photographs carried by Sohu showed a firefighter using an axe to hack away at the remains of the homes' first floor, which opened to the night sky. In another photograph, local officials milled about the second floor - most of which had been demolished in the blast.

While sifting through the rubble, officials found 40 rolls of firecrackers and other materials for making firecrackers, according to Sohu.

Explosions, both accidental and deliberate, are relatively common in China. Explosives are widely used on construction sites and in coal mines. They can also be made from chemical fertilizer found on farms.

With access to firearms very limited in China, more and more people are turning to explosives as a weapon of choice. In recent years, those responsible for bombings have included laid-off workers, Muslim and Tibetan separatists, gangsters and jilted lovers.

On Friday, at least 108 people died in a series of explosions in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, which borders Beijing. In what appeared to be a carefully staged, professional attack, four bombs ripped through buildings around the city within an hour of each other.

Government officials have offered an $18,000 reward for Jin Ruchao, 41, who they believe is behind the bombings, which damaged three state-owned workers' apartment buildings and demolished a fourth.

Yesterday, a Hong Kong newspaper, Wen Wei Po, reported that a woman had been arrested on accusations that she sold Jin 220 pounds of explosives.

Officials have not released information on a motive for the bombings.

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