Taipei - Gas leaks triggered a series of powerful explosions in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, killing at least 15 people and injuring more than 230, officials said warning that the death toll was expected to rise.
The explosions sparked a massive inferno that ripped through the city's Cianjhen district, with eyewitnesses reporting dead bodies littered on the streets.
"The gas explosions on Thursday night killed 15 people and injured 233 others," Kaohsiung's mayor Chen Chu told reporters.
The explosions, believed to have been triggered by gas leaks, were powerful enough to leave the area battered, smashing cars and ripping open paved roads.
The blasts felt like an "earthquake", the FTV cable news channel quoted one eyewitness as saying.
Residents were seen carrying the injured on makeshift stretchers as ambulances rushed to the scene and firefighters in yellow overalls began removing bodies from the area.
The National Fire Agency said the dead included four firefighters and put the number of injured at around 240, adding that they were being rushed to various hospitals in the city.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah earlier told reporters that at least five people, including a firefighter, were feared dead in the explosions.
The authorities received calls from residents in Kaohsiung's Cianjhen district about suspected gas leaks late on Thursday, which triggered multiple explosions.
"The local fire department received calls of gas leaks late Thursday and then there were a series of blasts around midnight affecting an area of two to three square kilometres," the fire agency said in a statement.
Local media reported that emergency rooms in Kaohsiung city hospitals were packed with casualties and officials warned that the death toll was expected to rise.
Officials urged people to stay out of the affected areas and local schools were reopened for people to take shelter.
Thursday's inferno comes just a week after a TransAsia Airways plane crash in Taiwan left 48 people dead.
In 1996 a gas explosion in Taipei county wounded 12 people and damaged more than 100 houses.