The blasts ripped through the southern city of Kaohsiung late on Thursday. Br Friday most fires were out as residents began to assess the devastation. Photo: AP
A series of gas explosions in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung has killed 24 people and injured about 270 others, officials say.
The blasts rocked the city's Cianjhen district, scattering cars and blowing deep trenches in roads.
The exact cause of the gas leaks is not clear, but reports say the blasts were caused by ruptured pipelines.
Images of the scene showed major fires, upturned vehicles, bodies covered in debris and streets split in two.
The explosions happened late on Thursday night, with witnesses reporting huge fireballs soaring into the air. Taiwan's premier said there were at least five blasts.
"The local fire department received calls of gas leaks late Thursday and then there was a series of blasts around midnight affecting an area of two to three sq km [one sq mile]," the National Fire Agency said in a statement.
"I saw lots of cars and motorcycles with engines all over on the road, and doctors checking if bodies were dead or alive," eyewitness Chen Guan-yuan, who was at the scene shortly after the blast, told the BBC.
"Because the explosion range is so far so it's really difficult to handle this situation immediately," Chen said, adding that the blasts "caused a long-range hole, like a huge cave".
Four firefighters who were investigating reports of a gas leak were said to be among the dead.
People in the area were evacuated to schools as teams battled the blazes. By Friday morning most fires were reported to have been extinguished.
Firefighters were still trying to see if people were trapped under the rubble, the BBC's Cindy Sui in Taipei reported.
Major fires could be seen at the scene of the blasts. Photo: BBC
The exact cause of the blasts had not yet been identified but several petrochemical companies had pipelines running along the sewage system in the district, our correspondent added.
"The cause of the gas leak is still not clear at this moment. We suspect the leaked gas could be propylene," said Economic Affairs Minister Chang Chia-chu.
One witness told AFP news agency he saw "fire soaring up to possibly 20 storeys high after a blast".
Another told Taiwan's Central News Agency that the "explosions were like thunder and the road in front of my shop ripped open".
"It felt like an earthquake," the witness said.
People had been ordered to stay home from school and work in Kaohsiung's Cianjhen and Lingya districts on Friday, local media reported.
Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu wrote on her Facebook page (in Chinese): "Rescue efforts are still underway."
She urged everyone to "follow the instructions of rescue teams at the scene, and avoid standing around and watching".
"The local government has already requested [gas suppliers] CPC and Hsin Kao Gas cut off the gas supply," she added, urging residents to stay calm.
The local government has set up an emergency response centre.