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China explosion at barbecue restaurant leaves 31 dead, 7 injured

Chinese President Xi Jinping launched a national safety campaign Thursday, a day after state media reported 31 people were killed in an explosion at a barbeque restaurant. 

Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that a gas explosion at a two-story barbecue eatery in China’s northwestern Ningxia region Wednesday night killed 31 people. 

The blast tore through the restaurant at around 8:40 p.m. Wednesday on a busy street in Yinchuan, the capital of the traditionally Muslim Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, as people gathered ahead of the Dragon Boat Festival, according to the Xinhua News Agency. In addition to those killed, reports say seven others were hurt, including at least one critically. 

The explosion left unconscious many people who needed to be carried out of the shop, according to the online news site The Paper, which quoted a member of the search and rescue team. Victims included elderly people and high school students, according to the news site. 

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Chinese firefighters

Firefighters work at the site of an explosion at a restaurant in Yinchuan, China, Wednesday, June 21, 2023.  (Wang Peng/Xinhua News Agency via AP)

An hour before the explosion, employees noticed the smell of cooking gas and discovered that a gas tank valve was broken, according to Xinhua. The blast occurred while an employee was replacing the valve.

Xi demanded urgent medical care for the injured and a safety overhaul after the explosion, Xinhua said. 

The Chinese president urged efforts to quickly determine the cause of the accident and hold people accountable under the law.

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Chinese firefighters after restaurant explosion

President Xi Jinping demanded urgent medical care for the injured and a safety overhaul after the explosion, Xinhua said. (Wang Peng/Xinhua via AP)

Xi also said all regions and related departments should address “all types of risks and hidden dangers” and launch campaigns to promote workplace safety.

Nine people have been detained by authorities, including the owner of the restaurant, shareholders and employees. Their assets have also been frozen, according to Xinhua.

The blast happened at an outlet of Fuyang Barbecue, a chain restaurant in Yinchuan popular for its grilled skewers and stir-fried dishes, The Paper said. The two-floor restaurant could seat 20 people on the ground floor and offered private dining rooms and karaoke on the second floor.

A video on social media platform Douyin – the version of TikTok permitted in the Chinese mainland – showed rescuers on ladders trying to reach victims on the second floor, according to The Associated Press. People who appeared to have minor injuries waited for help at the side of the road. Other videos showed at least six fire trucks at the scene and some onlookers crying.

Map of China showing location of barbecue restaurant explosion

A map showing the location of a reported cooking gas explosion at a barbecue restaurant that occurred Wednesday, June 21, 2023, in Yinchuan, China. (AP Photo)

The central government’s Ministry of Emergency Management said on social media that search and rescue work at the restaurant was completed early Thursday morning and investigators were working to determine the cause of the blast. The Dragon Boat Festival is a holiday devoted to eating rice dumplings and racing boats propelled by teams of paddlers. While the majority of Yinchuan’s population is Han Chinese, a third are Hui people, or Chinese Muslims.

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Reuters reported that the blast ignited debate on Chinese social media regarding the safety of barbecue restaurants, which have been trendy among online influencers. Their popularity has increased as domestic travel soared after the lifting of the government’s “zero-COVID” control measures late last year. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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