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China Caps Poisonous Gas Leak near Chongqing - 2003-12-27


In China, the government says crews have finished capping a gas well that blew out near Chongqing on Tuesday. The death toll from the disaster rose to 198 people Saturday.

The state-run news agency, Xinhua, says crews dumped hundreds of cubic meters of mud into the crevice on a mountainside where the well - in the process of being dug - had begun spewing out poison gas on Tuesday.

Hospitals continued to treat patients, many of them children, for chemical burns and gas poisoning. Officials say more than 9,000 people were injured across a radius that stretched for several kilometers.

The blow-out prompted the evacuation of about 41,000 people, many of whom were staying in shelters at schools and government buildings. The government sealed off all areas within a four- or five-kilometer radius of the well.

Officials at the scene say thousands of kilograms of food, blankets and other donations have been flooding in from nearby communities. The outpouring of sympathy came after Chinese newspapers ran photos of victims, including children with puffed faces resulting from their exposure to the gas.

China has been promoting a campaign to improve industrial safety, and officials said the disaster in Kaixian County was an example of what remains to be done.

Xinhua quotes a spokesman for China's industrial safety bureau as saying the country needs to improve its emergency rescue network. He said that, if a better emergency response apparatus was in place at the gas field, the death toll might not have been so high.

The Chinese government says more than 11,000 people died in workplace accidents in the first 10 months of the year.

Many of the deaths occurred in mines, where international labor advocates have complained that safety conditions are notoriously poor.

Officials on Saturday said a fire at a coal mine in northern Hebei province killed at least 26 workers.

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