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Leaking China gas well prompts evacuation of 15,000

Written by: Staff

BEIJING, Mar 30 (Reuters) A leak at a gas well in southwest China has prompted the emergency evacuation of 15,000 people in the same area where toxic gas killed 243 people more than two years ago, state media said today.

The 3,400-metre (11,000-ft) well, in the municipality of Chongqing and owned by the China National Petroleum Corp, began leaking around 7 am on Saturday during final tests before bringing the well into production.

Workers ignited the leaking gas to avoid a build-up of pressure and an explosion.

In December 2003, in one of China's worst industrial accidents, 243 people died when a leak in the same area sent out a cloud of toxic gas that killed residents in their sleep and as they tried to flee.

''The number of residents compelled to evacuate their homes has jumped sharply ... and now stands at 15,000,'' Xinhua news agency said.

''Local officials are trying to cope with the crisis but appear to be in dire need of supplies for those forced out of their homes.'' Gas field workers noticed that a section of a river just one km from the well started to bubble on Saturday morning, Xinhua said.

''The local government has warned people on the lower reaches not to drink water from the river,'' it said. ''Gas workers are monitoring the river.'' REUTERS SB KP1522

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