CHIANG MAI, (AFP): At least 22 people were killed and dozens injured this morning when an explosion destroyed a Taiwanese-owned fruit factory in San Pa Tong, northern Chiang Mai province, police said. All of the victims were Thai. The blast ripped through a longan processing plant while 30 people were working in it. Bodies and charred equipment lay in the devastated ruins of the building which collapsed under the force of the blast, witnesses said. A number of houses were destroyed nearby where many of the injured lived, and a hospital was also damaged. Vegetation in a forest clearing around the factory was burning as rescuers picked through the wreckage for victims. Several cars were also destroyed by the blast. Bodies wrapped in sheets were lined up in rows outside the factory site, and the death toll was expected to rise, officials said. Witnesses said the explosion was heard up to 20 kilometres (12 miles) away in the city of Chiang Mai. “It sounded like a huge bomb had gone off — it was a long, loud boom,” one said. Police Lieutenant General Aram Janpen told reporters that the explosion may have been caused by a spark igniting stocks of potassium chlorate used as fertiliser. Police say another theory was that the explosion was triggered by a build-up of gas used to power the factory. Aram said the owner of the factory, identified only as a Mr Lee from Taiwan, had been detained for questioning. Thai factory workers frequently have to put up with dangerous and overcrowded conditions. In the last major accident, in October last year, six people were killed when a fireworks factory exploded in Bangkok’s eastern suburbs. In 1993, around 200 people were killed when fire tore through a toy factory in the outskirts of Bangkok.
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