11/25/2013, 00.00
CHINA

Qingdao: death toll climbs from oil pipeline explosion

So far, 52 people died in the disaster with another 130 injured and 11 still missing. President Xi Jinping visits the area, calling for a thorough investigation and severe punishment. Blame game among parties kicks off.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Last week's oil pipeline explosion in Qingdao, northeastern China, killed at least 52 people, injuring more than 130, with another 11 missing. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who visited the disaster area, urged local authorities to remain vigilant and uphold workplace safety regulations.

The deadly oil pipeline explosion on Friday engulfed nearby roads and houses, causing gas supplies and power grid to be shut down at a time when temperatures are below zero.

Local officials warned the city's 8.7 million residents that repairs could take weeks. Tens of thousands of people are left without power and water.

President Xi has called for a thorough investigation and severe punishment for those responsible for the disaster.

Qingdao Communist Party Deputy Secretary General Guo Jishan said that Sinopec - also known as China Petroleum - is responsible for the safety of its plants.

The company blamed instead pockets of methane in the sewage system, which led to the explosion.

"This is a very serious accident caused by human error," said Yang Dongliang, director of the State Administration of Work Safety.

The central government could severely punish Sinopec, the state-owned oil giant that operates the pipeline, as well as local officials who failed in their duty.

Yang detailed a list of problems uncovered in the initial investigation, including poor designs of the pipeline and local drainage networks, negligence on the part of safety officials, bad maintenance of the oil pipeline, as well as officials' failure to seal off the affected area and evacuate residents after they detected the leak, several hours before the blasts.

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