China Gas Field Incident kills at least 191
BEIJING (AP) - Crews worked desperately Friday to plug a burst
natural gas well in southwest China and stop a leak of toxic fumes
that has left nearby villages full of bodies. At least 191 people
were killed, nearly 300 injured, and more than 41,000 forced to
flee their homes, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Disaster officials feared the death toll could rise as 20
special teams combed the area near the gas field looking for
survivors and more victims, Xinhua reported.
Rescue workers were prevented from entering the area immediately
after the well erupted Tuesday night in a gas field in the town of
Gaoqiao because they lacked the proper equipment and the fumes from
the deadly mix of natural gas and hydrogen sulfide were too strong,
Xinhua reported. By Wednesday morning, only nine people had been
confirmed dead, the agency said.
The mountainous terrain and muddy roads also made it difficult
for villagers to flee and hindered rescue work and communications,
When disaster teams finally entered the area on Thursday, they
made one grisly discovery after another, finding villages full of
bodies, the agency said. The death toll steadily mounted through
the day, and 191 people were confirmed dead as of Friday morning,
The blowout released a toxic cloud that forced the evacuation of
more than 41,000 people in a 3-mile radius from the gas field,
President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders ordered local
authorities to "go all out to rescue victims, prevent poisonous
gas from spreading further and reduce casualties," Xinhua said.
The cause of the disaster at the Chuandongbei gas field wasn't
clear. Xinhua said it involved a drilling mishap that broke open a
gas well, but didn't give details.
Technicians were trying to contain the well on Friday. "We will
see whether we can curb the natural gas from further escaping,"
Qian Zhijia, deputy head of the gas field, told Xinhua.
Xinhua had reported earlier that technicians would try to plug
the well using cement and earth-moving equipment. They ignited the
gas spewing from the wellhead on Wednesday to burn it off and stop
it from spreading, Xinhua said. Photos released by the agency
showed the flames shooting up into the night sky.
The death toll was high even by the appalling standards of
China's accident-plagued industry, where coal mine explosions and
other disasters kill dozens at a time, totaling thousands every
More than 290 people were hospitalized - most of them children,
Xinhua said. Victims were being treated for gas poisoning and
chemical burns, the Web site of the state newspaper China Daily
reported. Photos from one makeshift showed women and children with
blistered faces, some breathing from oxygen tanks parked beside
"There are farmers and miners, old and young, men and women,"
an unidentified hospital employee was quoted as saying by the China
Daily. "Some died after they arrived here."
The gas field is about 210 miles northeast of Chongqing, a city
The disaster came amid sweeping government efforts to tighten
industrial safety in China and reduce the carnage in a country with
one of the world's highest rates of workplace deaths.
Despite the crackdown, the number of deaths in China's mines and
factories jumped nearly 9 percent in the first nine months of this
year to 11,449, according to the government.
Fatal accidents often are blamed on lack of required fire
equipment and indifference to safety rules by managers.
State television reported the gas field disaster Thursday as the
second item on its national evening newscast but gave no death
The gas field is run by the Sichuan Petroleum Administration,
part of state-owned China National Petroleum Corp., Xinhua said.
APTV 12-25-03 2159EST