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Taiwan water park blast injures nearly 500 people

Emergency rescue workers and concert spectators tend to injured victims from an explosion during a music concert at the Formosa water park in New Taipei City, Taiwan. Photo: AP

Taiwan's health and welfare authorities put out a call for medical supplies and skin grafts for the hundreds injured after flammable powder exploded in midair at a recreational water park, Taiwanese media reported.

By late Sunday, no fatalities had been reported, and the total number of injuries had dropped to 498, according to China's Taipei-based Central News Agency, which cited New Taipei City's public health department.

Forty-three hospitals are treating casualties, CNA reported, and 202 of the victims are in critical condition.

Of the injured, 182 are hospitalized in intensive care units, New Taipei public health officials said. More than 60 have been discharged after treatment.

Six foreigners and seven visitors from Hong Kong, Macau and the Chinese mainland were among those injured.

The fire was sparked by an accidental explosion of an unknown powder near a music stage in front of about 1,000 people at the Formosa water park in New Taipei City and was quickly brought under control, said Wang Wei-sheng, a liaison with the New Taipei City fire department command center.

A spokesman for the New Taipei City fire department said, "Our initial understanding is this explosion and fire ... was caused by the powder spray. It could have been due to the heat of the lights on the stage."

Video showed rescue workers and bystanders carrying burned and injured people on their backs, in inflatable boats and on stretchers to get medical treatment.

CNA reported witnesses as saying that the fire spread quickly after the colored powder was blown into the air.

One male witness told local news channel CTI, "It started on the left side of the stage. At the beginning, I thought it was part of the special effects of the party but then I realized there was something wrong and people started screaming and running.”

It wasn't clear if the colored powder was part of a performance. The cause of the fire is being investigated.

"We feel sad and regretful about the accident," New Taipei City's mayor, Eric Chu, said. He said that extra doctors had been called in to help treat the victims.

"I've ordered the park to shut down immediately and be placed under a rigorous investigation," he said.

Authorities have banned the use of the powder until the investigation is completed and its safety can be assured.

"The next few days will be a critical time for the injured," Taiwan's chief administrator Mao Chi-kuo told reporters.

Suspects being questioned

Five people have been questioned in connection with the blast, according to Tu Yi Te, secretary in chief of the Luzhou District police department. He said that two of them are considered to be suspects -- the organizer of the party and the person in charge of lighting and hardware.

They were brought to the prosecutor for further questioning, Tu said, and CNA reported that the Taipei Shilin District Prosecutors Office released the two on bail and barred them from leaving Taiwan.

Organizer Lu Chung-chi's bail was about $32,000, while the hardware engineer's was almost $9,700, CNA said.

Formosa water park said that the fiery explosion occurred during a "Color Play Asia" party put on by a separate company that leased out space at the park.

"We are very regretful (for) this accident that caused injuries to many victims," Formosa water park said in a statement. "The most urgent matter currently for us is to handle and assist with ... victims on the scene and work comprehensively with the New Taipei fire department."

The organizer of "Color Play Asia" apologized and promised to take full responsibility, CNA reported.

"We need to apologize to the families. I am very sorry that something like this happened," Lu told CNA. "We shoulder ultimate responsibility."

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