Memory of explosion still haunting county

Updated: 2012-03-01 07:37

By Xu Wei (China Daily)

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ZHAOXIAN, Hebei - Liu Dongwei wandered outside of the gate of Keeper Chemical, where he and his wife worked until Tuesday morning. Unlike many other relatives of the dead or injured who vented their anger outside the factory gate, he looked reticent, with a dull look in his eyes.

At 9:10 am on Tuesday, Liu, a 35-year-old villager from Zhaoxian county, was in the No 3 workshop at the company when a huge blast ripped through the plant.

"Suddenly it was dark all around and I had to grab a pillar inside the plant to stay on the ground," Liu recalled, his eyes red. The pillar saved him from possible injuries from glass shards or falling rocks, which had injured many of the workers now lying in hospital.

However, the plant where his wife worked was reduced to a 1.5-meter deep ditch and the 31-year-old, mother to two sons aged 6 and 10, was nowhere to be found.

Memory of explosion still haunting county

Li Hongke, a 60-year-old injured in Tuesday's chemical plant explosion, is accompanied by his son and daughter at the traditional Chinese medicine hospital of Zhaoxian county, Hebei province, on Wednesday. [Feng Yongbin / China Daily]

On Wednesday, as authorities announced the death toll of the chemical factory blast in Hebei had risen to 17 and the number of injured to 46, many survivors and relatives are struggling to face the aftermath.

At a news conference at Zhaoxian county on Wednesday afternoon, authorities in Hebei province pledged a thorough investigation into the accident and more safety checks will be conducted to ensure workers' safety.

Liu Mingxuan, deputy mayor of the city government of Shijiazhuang, cited an evaluation result conducted by environmental bureaus that the blast had not caused negative effects to the environment.

Wang Haijun, an official from the State Administration of Work Safety, said at the conference that the incident highlighted the existing problems in the chemical industry. He did not specify what the problems are.

Authorities also noted that rescue and ground cleaning work are still being conducted and final figures for the dead and injured are yet to be confirmed.

In response to the outcry from villagers who say their relatives are missing because of the authority's failure to clean the scene immediately, Wu Haijiang, deputy head of Zhaoxian county, said that authorities have to prevent a secondary disaster.

Wu added that authorities can only start cleaning up the blast scene after experts devise a rescue plan.

As of Wednesday morning, diggers have already started working on the site.

Many people are still eagerly waiting outside the cordons, hoping for a single clue of their missing relatives.

"I need to see her, alive or dead," said Xin She, a 58-year-old villager from Zhaopingqiu village.

Xin had her niece's name searched in the hospitals in Shijiazhuang city but could not find her.

She also had spent a sleepless night searching hospitals and crematories in Zhaoxian county, but all efforts ended in vain.

At the people's hospital of Zhaoxian county, many of the injured still find the deadly experience too haunting to recall.

Zhai Jiangang, 60, was riding a tricycle to his farmland when waves from the blast threw him and his tricycle into a roadside ditch. Zhai passed out and woke to find himself in hospital. Zhai now suffers from severe scratches on his head and hand.

Many injured people in the hospital are from a neighboring factory, many of whom were injured by glass shards and falling bricks or rocks.

Liu Dongwei said he never dreamed such a deadly incident would ever fall upon the factory.

"Had I known there were such dangers, I would have never chosen to work here, let alone bring my wife here," Liu said.

The only reason he and his wife chose to work at the factory, Liu said, is because it is close to home and they can attend to their farmland after work.

Liu added that even though officials at the company have mentioned safety lessons to workers, "they were never put into practice".

Keeper Chemical Industries, with an area of some 11.33 hectares in the county's industrial park, started production in March 2010. It has a yearly output of more than 10,000 tons of chemical products. Its products are of three kinds: medical products, pesticides and military explosives, according to the publicity bureau of Zhaoxian county.

It is less than 300 meters from Yujiagang village. However, the chemical factory has long been subject of complaints from the villagers.

The villagers signed a 20-year contract with the Zhaoxian county industrial park to lease their farmland in 2008. More than 13.3 hectares of land were taken from Yujiagang village.

"Every morning the smell from the factory is so strong that it is unbearable," said Zhai Shunming, a 70-year-old villager.

Zhai said despite objections from villagers, the factory moved in and started production.

Other than that, the factory had once sent school bags to pupils in the village and helped build roads. That's the only friendly gestures the factory has made, Zhai said.