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Burst Chinese well sealed

By Associated Press
Published December 27, 2003

CHONGQING, China - Technicians today successfully sealed a burst gas well that had spewed toxic fumes, killing at least 191 people and forcing 41,000 to flee the remote, mountainous area, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The disaster was China's worst recent industrial accident, leaving a 10-square-mile "death zone" strewn with bodies of adults and children, some overcome as they tried to flee.

Emergency crews today began pouring hundreds of cubic feet of mud down the well, which had been spewing gas for four days, Xinhua said. A few minutes later, it sent a bulletin announcing, "Cap operation is completed successfully."

The disaster began Tuesday when the gas well - broken open by a drilling accident, Xinhua said - began spewing a toxic cloud of natural gas and hydrogen sulfide.

Some 9,185 people were treated for gas poisoning and other injuries, and 431 were hospitalized - 17 in critical condition, Xinhua said Friday. Newspaper photos showed children with red faces and their eyes swollen shut from chemical burns.

Work to seal the well was to have begun Friday, but Xinhua said it was postponed to today to let officials focus on getting food and water to evacuees living in schools and government buildings.

The gas surging out of the well had been burning since Wednesday, when technicians set it on fire, sending huge flames shooting into the sky in an effort to burn off the fumes and keep them from spreading.

Tang Xiaoying, who lived 1,000 feet from the gas field, lost nine family members, including her 5-year-old daughter, the newspaper Chongqing Economic Times reported.

Tang was quoted as saying she had just put her children to bed when she smelled the gas and heard neighbors shouting. She dressed her daughters and ran outside with them, choking on the fumes, the newspaper said. Her 5-year-old daughter complained that she felt ill and "by the time they reached safety, the girl had stopped breathing," the newspaper said.

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