Taipei, June 29 (CNA)
Sometime before 8:30 p.m. last Saturday, the crowd at a New Taipei party called Color Play Asia found they were standing almost ankle deep in a layer of colored dust that had accumulated in front of a performance stage.
Apparently no one thought it would be a problem -- until the dust ignited.
In the worst disaster of its kind in Taiwan's history, nearly 500 people -- most of them in their teens or twenties -- were enveloped in an expanding fireball that turned a drained pool at a water park in New Taipei into an inferno.
As of Monday morning, 439 people remained hospitalized, 211 of them in intensive care units. One of the victims, a 20-year-old high school graduate, died of her injuries, doctors said. As many of the victims fought for their lives in hospital, details of the incident continued to emerge, indicating that it was a disaster waiting to happen.
As much as three tons of fine corn dust had been prepared for use during the event, which was being held for the second consecutive year, said Hou Yu-ih, deputy mayor of New Taipei. Each partygoer paid an entrance fee of NT$1,500 (US$ 49) and was given three packets of colored powder, according to the Apple Daily, a mass-circulation tabloid-style newspaper.
Quoting the relatives of an eyewitness, the paper said the people right in front of the stage were standing almost ankle deep in dust, which was lifted at random intervals by the park's staff, using air blowers connected to canisters.
The city's deputy mayor said a preliminary investigation found that, in addition to powder thrown by the partygoers themselves, the staff members had used canisters of carbon dioxide to blow dust toward the crowd.
After more and more dust filled the air, it was ignited close to one side of the stage probably by a lighted cigarette or another source of heat such as the lighting, sound equipment or other machinery, he said.
Other witnesses have said that smoking was permitted at the event, which was held outdoors in a drained pool at Formosa Fun Coast Water Park in New Taipei City's coastal district of Bali. There have been eyewitness accounts of one staff member smoking while working onstage. As the dust exploded into a huge fireball, it was sure to cause serious injuries. The situation was compounded by the fact that most of the partygoers were wearing only swimsuits because they were at a huge water park where the daytime temperature was hovering around 35 degrees Celsius.
Up to 4,000 tickets were sold for the event, not including early bird packages.
In the wake of the incident, authorities have shut down the water park and banned the use of fine powder at any other events until further notice. (By Jay Chen)
Taipei, June 29 (CNA)