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Over 230 dead in China gas blast

28-12-2003

BBC OnLine:

The death toll from a gas well blow-out in south-west China has risen to 233, the state news agency Xinhua reports.

Local officials said the new victims were discovered in mountain villages outside the city of Chongqing.

More than 9,000 people were taken to hospital and more than 4,000 evacuated following Tuesday's explosion.

Now that the well has been blocked, an investigation has been launched which will decide if the PetroChina energy company is responsible.

Engineers on Saturday pumped 480 cubic metres of concrete into the well to seal it.

Concerns

Medical workers have disinfected eight villages close to the site of the leak and removed almost 4,000 animal carcasses which covered the area.

Concerns have been raised that local drinking water supplies and soil could be contaminated.


But Xinhua reports that many residents are now being allowed back to their homes after their villages were confirmed safe.

Only those whose houses lie within a five-kilometre (three-mile) radius of the leak are not allowed to return.

"I want to clean up my house and count my losses because we can't smell the fumes now," one farmer told Xinhua.

China's Ministry of Civil Affairs has sent more than 10,000 quilts and 300 tons of food and medicine to the area.

'Zone of death'

This was China's worst industrial accident - described by Chinese media as a "zone of death".

Many of the confirmed dead are children or elderly people who were unable to flee after the explosion.

A local newspaper in Chongqing described peasants racing to get away after catching "a whiff of the smell of stinky duck eggs" - deadly sulphurated hydrogen.

Those who did not escape in time - including farm animals and fish - suffered burns to their skin and lungs from the gas.

A woman who lived within sight of the well described grabbing her five-year-old daughter and fleeing.

"But by the time they reached safety, the girl had stopped breathing," the Chongqing Economic Times reported.

The same paper reported that a local merchant had saved 400 people by making 20 trips in his lorry to take people to safety.

China is notorious for dangerous working conditions at industrial plants.

An average of more than 10,000 people a month died in work-related accidents from January to September this year.

That figure is a 9% rise from the same period last year - despite a government campaign to improve work safety conditions.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/3353077.stm


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