1,000 villagers stranded after gas leak

By Huang Zhiling (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-12-25 06:54

Gas leaked from natural gas well is ignited to reduce the danger and to prepare for capping the leak in Xuanhan, Sichuan province December 22, 2006. [Xinhua]

XUANHAN, Sichuan: Roughly 1,000 villagers remain displaced after being driven from their homes by a gas leak that started last Thursday in Qingxi Town, Xuanhan County, in the eastern part of Southwest China's Sichuan Province.

A gas well operated by China Petrochemical Corporation started leaking at around 7:00 pm on Thursday, leading to the evacuation of some 12,380 villagers living within a 1-kilometre radius of the site.

About 3 hours after the leak started, officials from the corporation ignited the gas to reduce pressure building up in the well.

"After the gas was ignited, we did not find any sulphureted hydrogen or sulphur dioxide in the air at the site of the leak. Nor was there any water pollution," said Liu Yuanbo, chief of the Xuanhan Environmental Monitoring Station.

As a result, the county government yesterday permitted villagers outside a 500-metre radius surrounding the leaking gas to return home.

"Only some 1,000 villagers have not been able to return home," said Zhang Chongyao, an information officer in the county.

Zhang told China Daily that the evacuees are living in government buildings, schools, hospitals and radio stations in Qingxi Town and neighbouring Sanhe Township.

"We are provided with free room and board. Doctors are available around the clock in the makeshift shelter where we live," said Li Benhui, a 64-year-old farmer from Fulong Village in Qingxi Town.

Wang Nengqiu, Xuanhan County magistrate, said the county government had set up an emergency fund of 100,000 yuan (US$12,700) to buy quilts, instant noodles and mineral water for the evacuees.

More than 400 primary school students evacuated from their villages will return to school today, said Xu Daiqiu, chief of the publicity department of the county's Party committee.

Zou Xiaoyan, a third-grader at Jin'e Village Primary School in Qinxi Town, told China Daily that she had not expected to return to school so quickly.

"I am very happy," she said.

Early yesterday workers failed to fill in the leaking well with about 200 tons of cement. Officials from the corporation were weighing their options last night, but no back-up plans had been implemented as of press time yesterday.

The eastern part of the Sichuan Basin abounds in natural gas reserves.

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