Villagers Call For Relocation After Massive Chemical Blast Near Chinese Port

2015-07-20
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A policeman (R) and firemen (lower L) run from the scene after an explosion at a chemical plant in Rizhao, east China's Shandong province on July 16, 2015.
A policeman (R) and firemen (lower L) run from the scene after an explosion at a chemical plant in Rizhao, east China's Shandong province on July 16, 2015.
AFP

Local residents terrified by a massive hydrogen explosion at a busy port in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong are calling on the government to relocate their village in its entirety over fears of further industrial accidents.

Eyewitness photos posted online showed a massive fireball rising over buildings and industrial structures after the blast at a chemical plant near Shandong's Rizhao port.

A resident surnamed Ma from Dongpan village, close to the site of the blast, said there was a "huge fireball" within a few hundred meters of his home.

"We live just 500-600 meters from the factory and the explosion was very big, with a huge fireball," Ma said. "It made a noise like thunder."

"People houses were rocked and damaged."

He said local people had taken to the streets to protest in the wake of the explosion.

"There are a lot of people out during the day, when the government doesn't dare move in, but at night they come into the village and start detaining people," Ma said. "I heard they had detained seven people."

A resident of nearby Xipan village said the damage to people's homes was extensive.

"Some homes collapsed, and the glass is all shattered," he said. "The government is calculating the compensation."

Terrified villagers

A resident of nearby Dongpan village said the blast had terrified local people.

"There was a huge fire at one of the factories, when a tank of liquid hydrogen blew up," the resident said. "Our village is far too close to that factory, and we were all terrified after the disaster."

"We want the entire village to be relocated," he said.

More than 50 fire engines and hundreds of firefighters were dispatched to the blaze, while local officials ordered cloud-seeding over the site of the fire to boost efforts to extinguish the inferno, the industry website Maritime News reported on Thursday.

The blast ripped through a facility belonging to local petrochemical company Rizhao Shida Technology, which also operates a petrochemical terminal at Rizhao Port, the report said.

"Citizens living near the explosion site have been evacuated while Rizhao Steel, which is also near the site, has suspended operation and evacuated workers," it said.

The Dongpan resident said a previous explosion had occurred at another nearby factory, named only as "Lanqiao."

"That only exploded once, and we put it behind us, but this time was different; there were many explosions," he said.

"We have never had such a massive explosion and fire here before, and there were never any evacuations. People are really frightened, actually," he added.

Simmering resentment

The Xipan resident said the area is surrounded by heavy petrochemicals factories just a few meters from people's homes, and that local resentment had been simmering for a long time.

"They occupied our farmland, so there was a lot of resentment here even before the explosion," the Xipan resident said.

"Our village is totally surrounded by factories; the tanks belonging to Lanqiao and Shida Technology are so close, just 30 or 40 meters away. There are even people living just 10 meters away from them."

"We are protesting, because we want to be relocated. We can't live here any more."

He said local people are also worried about the effect on their health of chronic pollution from the factories.

"There isn't one that doesn't pollute ... even if there were no explosions, it would still be tantamount to slow suicide to live here," the resident said.

The Xipan resident agreed. "There are more than 10,000 people living in our village, so it could take several years to relocate all of us."

"In those years, we would be sitting on a time-bomb, except that we would never know when it was going to explode," he said.

An official who answered the phone at the Lanshan district government offices on Monday declined to comment.

"I don't know the details," the official said. "You should get in touch with the propaganda department."

However, repeated calls to the district government propaganda department rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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