On the evening of June 15, a storm that had broken earlier in the afternoon in Tonghai County, Yunnan, grew more intense. At around 10:40 p.m., a post went viral on social media around Yuxi (where Tonghai County is located), with residents stating that the Liquefied trumpet gas (LP gas) station of Lishan Industrial Park in Tonghai county had just exploded.
According to RFA, the explosion took place at around 9 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, with flames to the sky, lighting up the night. At 11:00 p.m., the fire wasn’t put out, and people kept hearing loud sounds at the site.
Two hours later after the explosion, Spring City Evening News received confirmation from the Publicity Department of Tonghai County that a 100-cubic-meter LG gas tank in Lishan Industrial Park exploded.
At 11:09 p.m., Yunnan News posted the news in brief through its Weibo account, Yunnan Live Broadcasting, saying:
“Lishan Industrial Park in Tonghai had an explosion at about 9 p.m., with high flames and continuous bangs at the site; there seemed to be casualties; Tonghai fire department has arrived at the explosion site; please stay away from the area.”
Later, the Information Office of Yuxi Government released an announcement stating that only three people were reported as being injured in the explosion.
The 42 people who were reported to have died was said to be a rumor. The announcement also asked people not to spread the rumor anymore.
Shortly after the explosion took place, netizens began to pray for local residents on social media, hoping no more people would die or be injured. As for the official announcement, however, there are different opinions. Some netizens feel relieved, as the government says fewer victims suffered in the explosion, while other netizens question if the official casualty number is real.
A netizen said:
“We also hope this number  is a rumor. But very soon after the incident occurred, the government began to censor [related] news, and came out to refute the rumor. What does this mean? We only hope to ferret out those public officials, business managers, and government regulatory agencies that do not fulfill their responsibilities.”
Weibo user “Mimoum” left a comment under Yunnan Live Broadcasting‘s post:
“Your news’ wording is too loose. What do you mean that ‘there seemed to be [casualties]’?”
Another Weibo user, “Lu Lowe,” replied Mimoum:
“[the use of ‘seemed’] Is why the news is carefully phrased. This way the accident can be exaggerated into ‘having heavy casualties’ or extenuated to have three people injured as one chooses.”
Weibo user “Du Yi Wu Er” commented:
“China Sinopec’s LP gas station exploded; 42 people were said to have died in the accident, but the government denies it as usual.”
It’s not strange for Chinese people to question official death-toll statistics, not only because there’s a big difference between “three people injured” and “42 people dead,” but because China’s officials have been found to reduce the death toll numbers in various disasters, and there exists the very strict Internet censorship in China, implemented by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Interestingly, as reported by Spring City Evening News, among the six measures that the “Temporary Headquarter of Settling the Accident” claimed to take on June 16, the second day of the explosion, there’s “guiding public opinion.”
Global Times, one of the CCP’s offical run media, republished parts of the report from Spring City Evening News, including the sentences “some Weibo users posted ‘the explosion has caused 42 deaths and 11 injuries.'” Not long after that, a Tonghai netizen immediately replied, saying: “[The explosion] is not that serious; don’t spread the rumor.”
But the screenshot of the Tonghai netizen’s reply, embedded in the original report by Spring City Evening News, shows what the netizen actually said is:
“[the explosion happened] at 9 p.m., so not many people would stay in the factory. Please treat it rationally. Pray for the injured.”
But not all Chinese netizens doubt the official announcement. A Weibo user, “Little Potato Rachel,” also left a comment under Yunnan Live Broadcasting‘s post:
“Please everyone don’t spread the rumor. Those who harbor no good intentions always want to make some big news. Pray for every victim.”
It’s difficult to tell exactly how many people suffered in the explosion. Were there three injuries or 42 deaths? You be the judge.