National

FOUR INJURED, TWO MISSING

Fireworks factory explosion kills seven

Kyodo

Seven employees were killed, another was seriously injured and two were missing after an explosion at a fireworks factory here Friday afternoon, police and fire officials said.

Three passersby also suffered injuries from the explosion, which occurred at 1:30 p.m. at the Nangoku Fireworks Co.

The blast set off fires that destroyed six buildings inside the factory complex, the officials said.

“Debris from a brick wall was scattered over a couple of hundred meters at the site,” said a 54-year-old man whose wife was one of the three injured outside the plant.

Officials at Nangoku Fireworks said employees were mixing explosives at the factory at the time of the accident.

The fire department battled the blaze while working with police to identify the victims. The fire was extinguished shortly before 2 p.m.

Staff at a high school some 300 meters from the site said they heard three explosions and that windows in the school’s gymnasium and cafeteria were shattered by the blasts.

“The door of my house opened from the impact of the explosion,” said Teruko Moriyama, a 63-year-old housewife who lives nearby. “My brother said a window of his house was shattered by a flying stone.”

Nobuyo Kawabata, who lives about 500 meters from the site, said: “I wondered if it was Sakurajima erupting, but it’s too far away. I guessed it was probably a gas explosion.”

The Kagoshima Prefectural Government ordered the company to suspend operations based on the Explosives Control Law.

Local police and labor authorities are trying to determine what caused the explosion and whether the plant had followed proper safety regulations.

Nangoku Fireworks, which was founded in 1968 and employs 20 people, specializes in manufacturing large fireworks for events and festivals. According to Tokyo Shoko Research Ltd., the company racked up 212 million yen in sales in 2001.

The fireworks factory is located on a 20,000-sq.-meter site in a mountainous area about 5 km from downtown Kagoshima.

Nangoku Fireworks is permitted to store up to 9 tons of gunpowder, according to Kagoshima Prefectural Government officials. When the factory was inspected in October, officials found no problems.