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Gas blowout victims back home
( 2003-12-29 09:57) (China Daily)

Local villagers began to go back home on Saturday, after technicians sealed a gas well which blew out last Tuesday night in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, claiming 198 lives.

But only people who live far from the village were allowed to return home.

Villagers within five kilometres from the gas field are still being told to stay away, according to the local rescue headquarters.

Tests conducted by environment protection and health experts indicated that most parts of the affected area are safe to live in. But residents in the central area around the blowout will only be able to return home after all the sterilizing work is completed on December 29.

A natural gas blowout at the well Tuesday night spouted a large amount of poisonous gas. The death toll rose to 198 yesterday.

More than 9,000 local villagers were poisoned and more than 42,000 people were evacuated.

After two hours of struggling to pump mud into the gas well, emergency teams and technicians finally sealed off the burst on Saturday.

Gao Deli, a professor with the University of Petroleum in Beijing, said the natural gas, stored 4,000 meters underground, will not leak out elsewhere.

The accident site, including the well, will be strictly checked and revamped before further operation, he said, saying chances of similar accident nearby are narrow.

Meanwhile, 21,600 quilts, 18,000 items of everyday clothing, 11,000 padded overcoats and some 200 tons of food arrived in the county by Saturday morning. Officials said more relief materials donated from across China are still on the way.

The State Council, China's cabinet, on Saturday set up an investigation team headed by Wang Xianzheng, director of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), to look into the gas well blowout.

"It was an accident of rare severity," said safety administration spokesman Huang Yi. "We must learn a lesson from it."

The China Insurance Regulatory Commissioner on Saturday urged insurance companies to take prompt action to handle compensation in the disaster with their best service standards.

Initial estimates show that insurance payouts could add up to 400 million yuan (US$48 million) in Gaoqiao and another three towns stricken by the disaster.

China Life and Ping'an Insurance have already made some payments.

State leaders of Myanmar, South Korea, Russia and France have sent letters of condolences to Chinese leaders after news of the disaster made headlines around the world.

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