Powerful blast hits port city of Ningbo

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Two killed in the Chinese city, blast traced to hole in ground where toilet had been

NINGBO A powerful explosion hit China's major port city of Ningbo yesterday, killing at least two people, injuring more than a dozen and wrecking buildings, the authorities said.

Cars were twisted and mangled by the force of the blast, a plume of grey smoke rose in the sky and debris was scattered for dozens of metres.

There was no official word on its cause but firefighters have traced the blast to a hole in the ground where a toilet had been, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The Ningbo government said on social media that the blast occurred in a "vacant lot".

Local authorities said two people died, two were seriously injured and an unidentified number were being treated for lesser injuries in the city, which is just south of Shanghai.

Xinhua said the explosion happened in a demolished factory at around 9am (same as Singapore time) and more than 30 people were taken to hospital.

A later statement by the city's Jiangbei district, the scene of the blast, said 16 people were still being treated for minor injuries while an undisclosed number had left hospital.

Local broadcaster CCTV said yesterday that no one else was believed to be trapped in the rubble.

Industrial accidents are common in China, where safety standards are often lax.

Aerial images posted by People's Daily on Twitter showed at least four wrecked buildings around a wasteland of concrete debris.

Helmeted rescuers were seen carrying injured people away from the area, while others stood over a person lying on the ground.

Pieces of concrete, wood and glass were strewn across a wide area. Metal gates were twisted open and windows blown out of buildings.

The explosion sent chunks of masonry flying around the area, where buildings were already being demolished, according to Beijing newspaper Xin Jing Bao.

The Communist Party's People's Daily said on Twitter that no one lived at the scene but garbage collectors might have been working there.

An inquiry has been launched to determine the cause of the explosion.

Ningbo is one of China's major international container shipping ports. - AFP