Explosions, Fires Hit Malaysian Factories; At Least 40 Dead
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ Explosions ripped through a fireworks company and ignited fires that destroyed six other factories and 50 houses Tuesday. Authorities said 40 people were known dead and dozens more were missing.
The national news agency, Bernama, said there were fears the death toll could be as high as 100 in the Astra Fireworks factory alone. It said about 150 people were thought to be working in the plant when the explosions erupted in late afternoon.
Witnesses said people fled the neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital in panic, causing several traffic accidents. Bernama said one woman was struck by a car and killed.
Chong See Pek, who lives about a quarter-mile from the fireworks factory, said the explosions showered the area with stones, iron rods and other debris.
″One man was killed before my eyes when he was hit on the head by a piece of stone. It was like war,″ Chong said.
Fifty people were reported hospitalized for injuries from the explosions and fires.
Dr. Megat Buhainuddin Abdul Rahman, director of the government’s General Hospital, said 14 bodies had been brought to the hospital and 26 bodies were at the scene.
Bernama said an estimated 300 people, mostly factory workers, were left homeless by the fires, which burned across a 125-acre area.
Cause of the explosions had not been determined, and authorities had no immediate estimate of damages.
Scores of army and civilian firefighters battled the fires for about three hours. After nightfall, they used flashlights to begin searching the ruins of the factories and homes as crowds gathered to look for missing relatives.
The director-general of the fire department, Badaruddin Mat, told reporters only one woman had been found alive on the grounds of the gutted fireworks plant.
The survivor, Fatimah Idris, 26, was treated for minor injuries.
″On hearing an explosion, I headed for the door and rushed toward the only gate at the factory,″ she told reporters at the hospital. ″My first reaction to the explosion was to get myself out of the plant.″
She said she threw herself into a puddle of water and crawled from the building.
Fatimah said some workers made the mistake of running back to retrieve personal belongings. She said about 10 people had fled toward the door with her, but she didn’t know what happened to them.
″Some of my female colleagues tried to scale the concrete fencing surrounding the factory, but they came crashing down with the wall following a series of explosions,″ she said.