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Archive for Sunday, December 28, 2003

Gas leak victims still homeless

December 28, 2003

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— Sitting in their temporary shelter in a government office, Xiong Qimei hugged her two sons and waited Saturday for word that they could return to their village after crews sealed a gas well in China's southwest that spewed toxic fumes and killed at least 198 people.

Xiong's family was among 41,000 people forced to flee their homes by the disaster that left villages strewn with the bodies of adults and children.

"I'm lucky I wasn't injured," said Xiong, 33, whose family shares a crowded family planning center with hundreds of evacuees. "But I miss my home. I feel like I've lost everything."

Hundreds of police and soldiers continued searching the area Saturday for survivors and more bodies, the government said.

Scientists, meanwhile, were measuring toxins in water and on plants after crews plugged the well in a remote, mountainous area with tons of sealant, the government said. People who lived within three miles of the gas field in the town of Gaoqiao, northeast of the major city of Chongqing, weren't allowed to return yet.

Emergency crews spent two hours pouring sealant down the well but didn't give any other details of the operation Saturday, the government said. Earlier reports said technicians were using earth-moving vehicles.

While officials have said that light rains forecast for the next three days should help clear away the poison, the official Xinhua News Agency, citing unidentified experts, warned it could also make ground pollution worse.

China's Cabinet appointed a team of investigators led by the chief of the national industrial safety agency to find the cause.

Earlier reports said a drilling mishap broke open the well at the Chuangdongbei gas field.

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