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Explosions rip through Australian fireworks factory

world Updated: Dec 09, 2007 17:19 IST

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Explosions ripped through a fireworks factory in eastern Australia, damaging or destroying 50 buildings and throwing New Year's Eve fireworks displays in three state capitals in doubt, officials said on Sunday.

At least 10 homes in Wallerawang, 160 kilometres north of Sydney, were temporarily evacuated and emergency services kept their distance as blasts continued and fire spread through the factory, said Rebel Talbert, a spokeswoman for New South Wales state Rural Fire Service.
People reported hearing the explosions 30 kilometre away, she said.

Authorities set up a 1-kilometre overnight exclusion zone around the Howard and Sons Fireworks factory, Talbert said. A police bomb squad entered the site on Sunday and were examining the wreckage to find the cause of the explosions, which started in a shipping container used to store fireworks.

They declared the area safe on Sunday evening, and evacuated residents were allowed to return to their homes. Owner Andrew Howard said 20 buildings on the 154-hectare (380-acre) property were razed and 30 others were damaged. Plans for New Year's Eve fireworks displays in the capitals of three states were now in doubt because of the damage, Howard said.

No workers were at the factory at the time of the blasts, but it appeared that other containers at the site had been tampered with, raising suspicions that someone broke in, said police Superintendent Greg Martin.