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China Grapples With Blast, Spill in Latest Accidents

The explosion happened at an abandoned factory
Chinese firefighters rush to extinguish a fire after an explosion at a plastics factory in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu province on July 28, 2010.Photograph: AFP/AFP/Getty Images

China sent hundreds of officials to assist people hurt in a gas-pipeline blast in the city of Nanjing and to retrieve 3,000 barrels of hazardous chemicals that washed into a river in Jilin as authorities grappled with the latest in a string of industrial accidents.

The explosion at an abandoned factory in the eastern city of Nanjing killed at least 13 people, severely injured 14 and hospitalized 120, the city government said at a briefing today. Demolition of buildings at the factory damaged a propylene pipeline, causing the blast, according to the government.

“It felt like an earthquake,” said Chen Ming, a resident who lives less than 500 meters from the site of the explosion. “Things fell from the shelves and hit me. I ran out of my house and found everyone was standing outside.”

The accidents in Nanjing and Jilin yesterday followed an acid leak at Zijin Mining Group Co.’s copper and gold mines in the eastern province of Fujian and an oil spill in northeastern China that shut beaches and a port this month. China’s work safety administration last week ordered intensified measures at factories, mines and construction sites to prevent accidents.

“The system for environmental protection is highly imperfect,” Willy Lam Wo-Lap, adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, said in a phone interview. “From the leadership point of view, the top priority is still maintaining GDP growth and full employment.”

Water Supplies

The city of Jilin shut off the local water supply yesterday after barrels containing trimethyl chloro silicane, a corrosive chemical, were washed into the Songhuajiang river from a local factory by floodwaters, China Daily reported. Water supplies resumed this morning, Luan Yajie, an official from the water quality department of Jilin Water Group Co. said by phone.

The water quality of the river is within “normal range,” state broadcaster China Central Television cited Wang Linxi, Jilin province’s deputy head of environmental protection, as saying in an interview today. The accident is unlikely to have a “noticeable impact” on drinking water supplies, Wang said in the interview.

In Nanjing, the police set up a cordon around the blast site today. The government of Jiangsu province, which Nanjing is the capital of, dispatched 900 officials to assist local residents affected by the blast. Damaged houses are being repaired and the supply of water, electricity and gas has been “basically” restored, the government said on its website. Responsibility for the blast is being investigated, it said.

Blast Site

Half a dozen local residents living near the blast site blocked a road this morning to protest the lack of electricity amid high temperatures in Nanjing. The city of almost 10 million people was forecast to see temperatures of as high as 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the China Meteorological Administration. Police later carried them away from the road, allowing traffic to continue.

Buildings and vehicles within 100 meters (109 yards) were badly damaged, Xinhua reported. Houses near the plant were “flattened,” according to a report on the website of the State Administration of Work Safety.

In the city of Jilin, workers had recovered about 400 of the 7,000 barrels that were washed by floodwaters into the Songhuajiang, Xinhua reported. About 3,000 of the barrels contained chemicals, Xinhua reported, without saying how many of the barrels retrieved were filled with chemicals. The city is home to more than 4 million people.

Flood Deaths

Flooding in Yongji county in Jilin province, where the city is located, killed 13 people and left six missing, Xinhua reported. The county recorded the heaviest rainfall on record during the evening of July 27 and the early morning of July 28, Xinhua reported.

Water with the chemical barrels will leave Jilin province and reach Heilongjiang province in about three days and its capital Harbin in seven days, Xinhua reported, citing Guo Yuan, an official with Heilongjiang environmental protection bureau. Heilongjiang’s government ordered local authorities to ready precautionary water supplies, according to a statement on its website.

The Songhuajiang is the largest tributary of the Heilongjiang river, which runs between China and Russia. The Russian government has asked China for information on the incident, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported on its website today, citing Alexander Gavrilov, a climate and environment official.

An accident at PetroChina’s Jilin Petrochemical Co. plant in November 2005 released 100 tons of toxic waste into the Songhuajiang, forcing cities in northeastern China to cut water supplies to 3.8 million people for several days. PetroChina was fined 1 million yuan ($147,000) by the country’s environmental protection agency for the spill, the official China Daily reported in 2007.

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