Search for gas blowout survivors expected to end soon

The largest ever search for survivors since Tuesday when a gas blowout had killed at least 191 people in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality is expected to end at about 2:00 a.m. Saturday, local police said.

Over 2,100 soldiers, armed police and fire fighters had combed the areas near the gas field for three times and relocated 970 more people to safe places, police said.

The tragedy took place at 10:00 p.m. Tuesday when a well blew out suddenly and released a high concentration of natural gas and sulfurated hydrogen at Chuandongbei gas field in Kaixian County, some 337 kilometers northeast of Chongqing.

Authorities and technicians have decided to carry out the operation to contain the gas explosion at 9:00 a.m. Saturday after it was postponed for one day, sources said Friday night.

"All preparations are now ready at the scene," said a spokesman for the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), who operates the gas field where the accident occurred.

The toxic gas started bursting from the well in Gaoqiao Town of Kaixian County on Tuesday night, poisoning over 9,000 people to different extent and killing at 191 others by press time.

Some 480 cubic meters of muds were assembled and stood by the scene to prepare for Saturday's operation, the spokesman said.

Only 80 technicians armed with protective clothes and respiratory machines would be allowed into the well's mouth Saturday under close monitoring of medical experts, he said.

The areas within five kilometers will be open only to those operation personnel, firemen, anti-chemical warfare corps and police with protective equipment beginning 7:00 a.m. Saturday, said Huang Zhendong, Party secretary of Chongqing.

A total of 60 special teams had begun to block road crossings outside the areas within five km of the gas field and only exit was allowed, local police said.

The air quality remains fine currently and all the measurement meters point to zero, according to the rescue headquarters.

Some animals around the gas field are still alive, sources withthe headquarters said.

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

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

People's Daily Online ---