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Blast victim's mixed feelings on chemical projects

Updated: 2013-11-27 18:14
( Xinhua)

QINGDAO - Chemical projects brought fortune to people on Qingdao's Huangdao Island, but they also have taken their homes and even their lives.

Cui Bing had mixed feelings about the plants there, but he was not determined to move from the small island of Huangdao until five days ago, when a pipeline blast killed 55 people, leaving nine others missing.

"In just an instant, they were all gone," said the 51-year-old Cui.

At the Beihai Garden residential community where Cui lived, four buildings were left tilting over from the blast, including the one that contained his fifth-floor apartment. At least four people died in the community.

Cui only narrowly escaped death because he was at work at the time of the blast. "Had I left for home 20 minutes earlier, I would have been killed on the way," he said.

Following the blast, Cui turned to a relative for shelter and the government later arranged for him to stay in a hotel.

Huangdao Island is a district under the port city of Qingdao in east China's Shandong Province. Cui has worked at the nearby Datang power plant on the island since 1978 when he graduated from high school.

He still remembers how the plant where he worked when he first came here was located right near the coast. He and his colleagues often collected crabs and sea cucumbers on the beach.

In the same year, China adopted its opening and reform policy, which helped lift tens of millions of people out of poverty and also greatly changed the island of Huangdao.

Cui was among the first beneficiaries of the policy. He and his wife, also a power plant worker, each earned between 50,000 yuan ($8,15) and 60,000 yuan annually from 1990 to 2000, a golden decade for power generation in China as well as economic development.

"Many were jealous of us at that time," he recalled. In 2000, he was allocated the three-bedroom apartment and paid only 80,000 yuan to acquire it.

Over the past decades, more and more plants have been built on marine reclamation land, turning the uncultivated wilderness into a cluster region of petroleum and chemical industries on Huangdao Island.

However, the growing number of oil tanks and chemical facilities also posed safety hazards for local residents.

In August 1989, an oil tank blaze triggered by a lightning strike killed 19 people on the island. The fire was not put out until four days later, and more than 600 tonnes of oil leaked into the sea.

"I felt like I was sleeping beside an explosives magazine then, " he recalled.

In 2003, a joint venture chemical plant for aromatic products was established near his neighborhood, despite disagreement from local residents, and one year later, the Qingdao Refining and Chemical Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of China's largest oil refinery, Sinopec, was set up on the island.

"Oil pipelines were placed less than 100 meters from residential communities, far less than the safe distance required by national regulations," Cui said.

While visiting victims injured in Sunday's blast, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed that a lesson should be drawn and work safety responsibilities should be fulfilled to avoid similar accidents.

The city government has requested an overhaul of all underground pipelines in the Huangdao District. The government has also mobilized workers to restore power, water and gas supply and install windows and glass for Cui and his neighbors. Construction specialists will be sent to evaluate whether the damaged buildings are inhabitable.

Despite all government efforts, Cui is reluctant to move back.

"Who could sleep well with a giant oil tank next to their home? " he said, adding that he expects fair compensation and better efforts from the government in urban planning.

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