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Thousands flee China gas disaster

Mothers huddle with their children and other survivors.
Mothers huddle with their children and other survivors.

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CNN's Lisa Rose Weaver reports on a rise in the death toll after a gas well burst.
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Oil and Gas

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Villagers injured in a gas blowout at a remote gas field in southwest China continued to flow Friday into the largest hospital in a remote area northeast of Chongqing city.

The numbers added to the some 800 injured already there, a worker at Kai Xian Peoples' Hospital told CNN.

The death toll from Tuesday's incident rose to 191 Thursday as rescuers attempted to contain the "gas field blowout."

Most of the victims had suffered chemical burns and respiratory irritation. Scores of them suffered severe poisoning, hospital staff told CNN.

Meanwhile, an official with the local government's information office told CNN that the number of people being evacuated has slowed considerably.

State media reported Thursday night that some 41,000 residents had been cleared out.

Chinese officials said a gas well "burst" Tuesday in the Chuan Dongbei gas field, releasing natural gas and sulfurated hydrogen "killing and poisoning many people," the state-run Xinhua News agency reported.

The state-run China Daily said poisonous gas hovered over the village as many residents slept, making "an area of 25 square kilometers a death zone."

Chinese state media also reported Friday that plans to fill the main drilling well with mud and cement in an effort to contain the gas have been delayed for at least a day so that evacuations from the area may continue.

A CNPC rescue team had planned to pump 260 cubic meters of mud into the well Friday morning in an attempt to cap it, Xinhua reported.

One rescue coordinator told CNN poisonous gas continued to leak at the Chuandongbei gas field, but had been reduced considerably.

Gas field workers Wednesday partially contained the leaking gas by igniting it, burning off poisonous fumes.

State media said that the initial casualty figures -- eight people -- were low because it took rescue workers a full day to reach the remote area and count the corpses.

The cause of the "blowout" was still unknown, they said.

Details of the tragedy have been slow coming out because of the remote area. The gas field is 337 kilometers northeast of Chongqing city, rescue officials said.

China has a notoriously poor work safety record.

More than 120,000 people died in work-related accidents from January to November this year, the official China Daily said earlier this month.

Chongqing and the neighboring province of Sichuan are among China's major natural gas producing areas.

-- CNN's Lisa Rose Weaver contributed to this report

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