Bomb man surrenders to Chinese police
By staff and wire reports
BEIJING, China -- A man suspected of illegally storing explosives that killed at least 47 people in a north China village has surrendered to police.
Ma Shigui moved the explosives to his brother's home in Mafang Village, Shaanxi province, after safety inspectors shut down his illegal explosives factory in April, state-run Xinhua News Agency said on Wednesday.
An explosion early Monday destroyed half of the town's buildings, burying families under rubble, authorities said.
A spate of deadly accidents has struck China recently, including the collapse of a large crane at a shipyard in Shanghai that killed at least 36 people on Tuesday.
After Monday's blast, Ma fled but turned himself over to police on Wednesday morning, Xinhua said.
More than 48 hours after the blast, police had cordoned off the site and were still digging bodies out of the rubble, said CNN's Lisa Rose Weaver.
But their work seemed to be winding down and most of the soldiers assigned the grim task had already left the area.
Villagers whose homes had been destroyed camped out with relatives or returned to what was left of their domiciles, she added.
Blown to bits
On day three after the explosion, Chinese state media had stopped running stories and the official death toll stopped at 47.
But hospital sources told CNN they believed the death toll would be considerably higher -- estimating that at least 100 people had died.
Residents corroborated this, saying that about the same number perished or are still unaccounted for. Identification is difficult because an unknown number of villagers were blown to bits.
Residents in Dangcha township, near the blast site, told CNN that more than 100 homes in Mafang village were destroyed.
One resident described the blast site as being about 50 meters wide and 6 to 7 meters deep.
Another resident who did not want to be identified went to see the devastation the day after the blast and was shocked.
"I have no idea what the survivors were doing," he said. "It was all just so chaotic."
Mafang village was originally home to more than 2,000 people. For rural Northwest China, which is generally poor, Mafang and the township surrounding it could be considered well off.
The area relies mostly on rice and watermelon farming, but also has several enterprises producing construction goods like cement or bricks.
Explosives are also in demand -- mostly for blasting rock for road construction, said one local.
Serving that market may have been what prompted Ma to illegally produce explosives in the mountains and then store them -- apparently in large quantities -- in the village.
"They're idea of safety is pretty low, they don't understand much," said one resident of such entrepreneurs.
China's failing safety record has come to light in mining accidents. The Chinese ministry overseeing mining safety passed regulations late last year after a string of deadly mining explosions.
Much of the problem lies in small, illegally operated coal mines.
A recent investigation by the National Safety Production Supervision Bureau showed that in Hunan Province alone, the number of illegal mines doubled in half a year despite official efforts to close them down.
According to Chinese press reports, villages and towns that do not have factories and enterprises to rely on for income generate revenue by illegal mining.
"Protecting small illegal coal mines is like protecting our cadres' rice bowls," a Hunan official was quoted as saying by The Legal Daily.
China's government has repeatedly sought to tighten controls on explosives, which are widely used in mining, construction, farming and fishing. Ingredients are cheap and making explosives illegally is a popular business.
In March, a man using homemade bombs killed 108 people and destroyed several buildings in the northern city of Shijiazhuang.
That same month, an explosion leveled a schoolhouse in the southern province of Jiangxi, killing 42 teachers and students.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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