At least 191 killed by gas blowout, 291 hospitalized
( 2003-12-26 01:26) (China Daily)
At least 191 people were confirmed dead in a fatal gas blowout that occurred Tuesday night at a natural gas field in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, according to local government sources.
The poisonous gas hovering in the air made an area of 25 square kilometres a death zone, as many villagers were intoxicated by the fumes in their sleep.
Some 291 people, mostly children, were hospitalized and four of them were still in critical condition while some 4,000 local people were reported to have suffered sulfurated hydrogen-caused symptoms like slight conjunctivitis and colds, according to local health bureau.
"We have admitted 138 patients poisoned by the toxic gas," said a doctor with the internal medicine department at Kaixian County People's Hospital.
"They have received timely and effective treatment and their conditions remain stable," the doctor said. "We are mainly using the antidotes medicine on the patients."
A total of 28 villages were hit by the gas blowout as local authorities had set up 15 shelter centers in schools and canteens for those evacuated.
"Many young people have gone out to work in faraway cities, leaving behind
the elderly and kids at home who could not act swiftly to seek safety,'' said
Pan Benqing, an official with a hospital in Zhonghe Town.
The wounded, showing symptoms of headache, nausea, breathing difficulty and some with sore eyes, are mostly in stable conditions, said Pan.
It is feared that the number of casualties might rise as 20 special teams are identifying casualties and continuing combing the nearby areas for survivors.
"The county government has assembled quilts, biscuits and instant noodles for the victims," said She Mingzhe, Communist Party Secretary of Kaixian County.
Meanwhile, six other work teams were preparing rescue materials, vehicles and gas-combating equipment for an all-out effort to curb the outflow of gas this morning.
The cause of the accident, considered to be the worst in China's history, is under investigation.
A work team headed by State Councillor Hua Jianmin arrived on the scene yesterday evening to organize the rescue work and an investigation into the cause of the accident.
Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, called for unreserved efforts in searching and rescuing the victims.
The leaders said in their instructions that relevant departments should go all out to rescue victims, prevent poisonous gas from spreading further and reduce casualty.
The leaders also called for effective efforts in evacuating local residents to safety and arranging proper accommodation for them.
Chongqing's Mayor Wang Hongju was also at the site, visiting the wounded in hospitals and overseeing the relief goods being sent to the homeless.
Fire used to block gas spread
Some 260 cubic metres of concrete carried by 13 vehicles will be pumped into the well this morning to completely block the flow of the toxic sulfurated hydrogen.
According to Qian Zhijia, deputy head of the company, operations appeared normal until the gas suddenly blew out from the side of the drill and got out of control.
But experts point out that accidents are likely when drilling a new well, as pressure conditions under the earth are not predictable. This particular well fell into that category, local sources said.
The gas contains a large amount of sulfureted hydrogen, which is heavier than air and tends to stay on the ground during blowouts, killing people, animals and plants as the burning acid mixes with water, said Tang Zhenghua, adviser to the China International Engineering Consulting Co.
The gas field in Kaixian County has a storage capacity of 50 to 60 billion tons of natural gas.
A senior official with the State Administration of Work Safety Thursday said localities across the country should upgrade their supervision and safety inspection processes during production, as well as management and storage of toxic products.
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