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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chinese Rocket Explodes

BEIJING -- China's newest rocket exploded with its Intelsat satellite payload seconds after liftoff Thursday, injuring at least 10 people and bruising Beijing's space ambitions.

Hospitals were ordered on alert after the accident near the Xichang space center and authorities sealed off the area where the flaming rocket slammed back to earth, officials said from the town in southwestern Sichuan province.

"The explosion was like an earthquake," an official of a local state agency said from Xichang, adding that the blast could be heard 40 kilometers away.

"A medical team has been sent to the site," an official of one hospital said by telephone. "The hospital has been ordered to go on the alert." He refused to comment further.

China's tightly-controlled state media clamped a domestic blackout on the 3:01 a.m. explosion, the second disaster in 13 months for the country's fledgling commercial space program.

The local official reached in Xichang said there were "almost certainly casualties" but that extreme restrictions on access to the crash zone made further comment impossible.

Domestic Xinhua, state radio, television and newspapers carried nothing -- sparing China the knowledge of a new embarrassment on the eve of the Lunar New Year holiday.