Prompt response to gas leakage keeps locals safe, sound Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Though emergency workers are yet to plug the leaking gas well close to his home, Xiong Shuzhou feels perfectly safe at his temporary lodging 30 kilometers away from the leakage site.

The 58-year-old Xiong from Gaowang village in Gaoqiao town of Kaixian County, southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, was among some 10,000 locals evacuated in the wake of a gas leakage at7:00 a.m. Saturday at Luojia No. 2 well owned by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).

"The village head knocked on every door telling us to escape, and buses were waiting to take us to the county seat," he said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua Tuesday.

Xiong and at least his 800 other fellow villagers are taking refuge at a conference hall in the county seat, waiting for the leakage to be capped so they can return home. "We have porridge, buns and soy milk for breakfast and several dishes for lunch and dinner. Each of us is given a new cotton-padded quilt," he said.

For Xiong, this is the second time in 27 months to survive a gas leakage. He still has dreaded memories of a deadly gas blowout at Luojia No. 16H Gas Well on Dec. 23, 2003 that left 243 people dead and 2,142 others hospitalized.

"We didn't come to realize we should escape, till we saw our livestock lay dying and many villagers flee to unknown destinations," he recalled. "We ran to a neighboring village and spent nights outdoors keeping ourselves warm around a little fire before we were given shelter at the village school."

Huge casualties were reported in the 2003 gas blowout partly because many villagers were not alerted and evacuated promptly, Xiong said as he looked back to the tragedy.

Yang Jigui, a local folk of Shuangsheng village in Gaoqiao Town, said he ran five km overnight carrying his two kids on his back, not knowing whether they were safe havens.

"This time the government has stated clearly which places are dangerous and which are perfect sanctuaries. There're also clinics to treat emergency illnesses and provide basic medication. Officials are standing by to deal with whatever problems that might arise. These have dispelled all our worries," said Yang.

Following the 2003 gas blowout, Ma Fucai, former general manager of CNPC, resigned and six people were jailed for delinquency of duty, including the head, engineers and technicians of the ill-fated well.

The tragedy sped up the formation of an emergency response framework that includes plans to cope more efficiently with publice mergencies in all Chinese provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.

It is ruled under the framework that in the advent of an emergency, the public has to be informed at first time. Those who fail to do so, try to cover up an emergency case or breach their duty in one way or another will be penalized or prosecuted, it says.

The government of Kaixian county has closely followed the rules to handle the current emergency, said Jiang Youyi, secretary of the Kaixian county committee of the Communist Party of China. "Shortly after we were told of the accident Saturday, we sent 80 buses to evacuate some 10,000 residents to five temporary lodging sites, with each equipped with canteens, clinics and security guards to take care of the lodgers' needs."

On the same day, the government issued an emergency notice to tell residents on the lower reaches of Gaoqiao River not to drink the river water. It also said the government will keep the locals informed of the results of its monitoring on air and water quality.

Emergency workers ignited escaping gas in time to stem the leakage from escalating into a buildup or explosion. In the 2003 tragedy, however, sulfureted hydrogen 6,000 times higher than the normal kept building up for 18 straight hours as escaping gas failed to ignite in time.

"We're quite safe and provided for, but we want to go home soon," said Wang Tiancheng from Shuangsheng village, obviously worried that the second plan to plug the leaking well scheduled for Tuesday has to be postponed till Wednesday.

The emergency headquarters said geological conditions around the leakage site are too complicated and a more detailed plan has to be worked out. An earlier plan to seal off the well proved futile on Monday.

"We'll do our best to remedy the situation, and make sure that no one gets injured or killed," said Zhou Mubing, vice mayor of Chongqing.

Figures provided by the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) indicate that mishaps are more prone between the fledgling and fast-growing phases of the industrial economy and tend to decline once a country's industrial economy becomes mature.

The fatality rate per 100,000 people tends to grow from five to30 when the per capita GDP is rising from a relatively low level to 10,000 U.S. dollars, the SAWS figures say. The fatality rate drops to 10 when the per-capita GDP tops the 10,000-dollar mark and back to five or lower when the per-capita GDP hits 25,000 U.S. dollars. 

4,000 students suspended classes in Chongqing gas leakage-hit area
Chongqing postpones 2nd plan to cap gas well
Chongqing to adopt 2nd plan to cap gas well
China to adopt second plan to cap leakage-hit gas well
Proposal made to handle gas-leak in Chongqing
Capping of gas well starts in Chongqing
Chongqing takes measures to stop gas leak
Editor: Yangtze Yan
Source: Xinhua