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20 killed in gas leak explosions

A series of underground gas explosions have killed 20 people and injured 270 in Taiwan's second-largest city.

The National Fire Agency said five firefighters were among the dead. Crews had been at the scene investigating reports of a gas leak when the explosions occurred, according to Taiwan's Central News Agency.

Taiwan's premier Jiang Yi-huah said at least five blasts shook the streets of Kaohsiung, a south-western port city of 2.8 million.

Video from Taiwanese broadcaster ETTV showed a row of large fires burning in the middle of a street, with smoke rising into the night sky. A motorcycle and other debris were scattered across the middle of the roadway.

Power was cut off in the area, making it difficult for firefighters to search for others who might be buried in rubble.

The source of the leak had not yet been located. But Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu said several petrochemical companies had pipelines built along the sewage system in Chian-Chen district, which has both factories and residential buildings.

"Our priority is to save people now. We ask citizens living along the pipelines to evacuate," Mr Chen told TVBS television.

Mobile phone video captured the sound of an explosion as flames leapt at least 30 feet. The force of the initial blast also felled trees lining the street. TVBS showed cars flipped over and shattered windows.

CNA said the fire brigade received reports from residents of gas leakage at around 8.46pm local time and that explosions started around midnight.

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