Qingdao continues recovery

Updated: 2013-11-25 01:24

By He Na and Xie Chuanjiao in Qingdao, and Cui Jia and Tang Yue in Beijing (China Daily)

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Qingdao continues recovery

Chinese President Xi Jinping visits a survivor from Friday's oil pipeline blast at the affiliated hospital of Qingdao University in Huangdao district, Qingdao, East China's Shandong province, on the afternoon of Nov 24, 2013. Fifty-two people were confirmed dead in the blast. [Photo/xinhuanet.com]

No official warning

Many residents said they had been given no warning of the oil leak. "What I don't understand is why no one told us there was a leak on the oil pipeline, which is buried right next to my place of work, and why they didn't evacuate us when the repair work started?" said Li Baoli, an employee at a factory owned by Yihe Electrical Equipment Co, which is situated close by Zhaitangdao street — one of the worst-hit areas.

Li Baoli, who suffered a broken ankle in the blast, said that if the authorities had warned the factory about the possible danger, work could have been suspended for the day and many lives could have be spared.

"I wouldn't have worked here if I'd know that an explosion caused by leaking oil could be this severe. I've been working at this factory for 13 years, but I never knew that an oil pipeline ran underneath it," said the 45-year-old, speaking from his hospital bed.

He said he heard two loud bangs and was thrown to the ground by the shockwave. He attempted to run, but felt a sharp pain in his right ankle, which had been hit by flying masonry. "I had no choice but to ignore the pain. It felt as though death was chasing me when I heard a third loud bang," he recalled.

His colleagues took him to the hospital in a car with no windows — all the glass in nearby buildings and vehicles had been shattered by the explosion.

"My injury is nothing — some of my colleagues were killed. Many had blood all over their faces and people were lying on the ground in all sorts of horrible positions. It's such a tragedy," he said.

Another worker, Gao Xuyou, was in the same hospital ward as Li Baoli. "The shockwave was like a strong wind carrying broken glass, bricks and concrete, which hit people working inside the factory too," said the 44-year-old.

Li Ming, 25, who was also working at the factory when the blast occurred, said, "The explosion was far more frightening than any scene in the Hollywood disaster movies I've watched."

He said cars were thrown several meters into the air, before being crushed under concrete paving slabs that had been wrenched from the sidewalks.

Li Ming was working in the part of the factory closest to Zhaitangdao street at the time of the explosion. He only escaped injury because he was standing between two large shipping containers. "They stopped the flying concrete. I don't think I would still be alive if they hadn't been there."

Following the explosion, water, electricity, natural gas and central heating services were suspended in the neighborhood. By Saturday night, however, water and electricity had been resumed in all areas, except for the epicenter of the blast.

Xue Jianzhu, 57, a lifelong Huangdao resident, said he had been unaware of the pipeline until Friday. He said Zhaitangdao street is often heavily congested by traffic, especially during the monthly market day.

"Also, Huangdao No. 2 middle school is not far from there. If the explosion had occurred when the students were on their way to or from school, the consequences could have been unthinkable," he said.

"Why didn't the authorites block the street and evacuate the residents, workers and students, when they clearly knew there was a leak on the pipeline?" asked Xue.

Angry residents

Other residents said the devastation could have been far worse if the nearby Lidong chemical plant hadn't suspended production on Friday for planned maintenance.

"The whole district might have been turned to ashes if the chemicals in the plant had exploded," said maintenance worker Lan Shoulian. The street looks like it was dug up by excavators, said the 45-year-old, who dragged a bloodstained man from his wrecked car in the aftermath of the blast.

Qingdao municipal government has announced that it will check all pipelines under the city and formulate an overall revamping plan to ensure that an accident to one pipeline will not affect the others, but that has failed to assuage the anger of some locals.

"I am furious. We knew nothing about the oil pipeline. It was a ticking time bomb and it has got to go," said Xue.

Yang Yang and Hu Qing contributed to the story