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Gas well capped after blowout that killed 198.

BEIJING, Dec. 27 Kyodo

Technicians successfully sealed Saturday morning a natural gas well in southwestern China from which a toxic cloud leaked last Tuesday, killing 198 people and poisoning scores of others, official media reported.

Xinhua News Agency said the capping operation was completed successfully at 11 a.m. in the gas field in the vicinity of Gaoqiao town of Kaixian County in Chongqing.

Some 480 cubic meters of mud were used in the capping operation, which was performed by 80 technicians wearing protective clothing and using oxygen tanks.

Meanwhile, Xinhua reported that the death toll from the blowout has risen to 198 from 191 reported the previous day.

Nearly 10,000 people have been treated for symptoms of poisoning by sulfurated hydrogen.

The blowout hit 28 villages of Kaixian County, forcing the evacuation of more than 42,000 residents.

The disaster took place at 10 p.m. Tuesday at the natural gas field operated by the Sichuan Petroleum Administration under China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC).

The escaping sulfurated hydrogen was set afire Wednesday afternoon to reduce the risk of poisoning, sending out heat waves, clouds of smoke and loud cracks, Xinhua reported.

The original operation scheduled for Friday to cap the well was postponed until Saturday to give more time for rescue teams to search for survivors and bodies near the gas field, the report said.

According to the China Daily, more than 1,500 police officers, firefighters and soldiers and some 4,000 local people have been involved in efforts to search for survivors in an area of about 80 square kilometers.

The report said local police have identified 182 victims, two of whom worked at the gas field. The rest are local residents. The elderly and children accounted for a large proportion of the dead, more than 80% of whom were from Liao village in Gaoqiao township.

Scores of dogs, ducks, rabbits and other domestic animals also perished. Even fish did not escape, the report said.

CNPC issued an emergency notice Friday, ordering production safety checks at all of its gas fields.

CNPC companies will suspend the production at any of its facilities that fall short in terms of safety measures, while it will inform and evacuate nearby residents in a timely and efficient manner if any emergencies arise in the future, a CNPC spokesman told the daily.

The gas blowout was the biggest in the area in recent memory.

On March 22, 1998, 11 people were killed, 13 poisoned and one injured in a gas blowout in Kaijiang County in southwestern China's Sichuan Province. On Sept. 28, 1992, six died and 24 others were poisoned in a blowout in Zhaoxian County in northern China's Hebei Province.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Date:Dec 29, 2003
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