Area of gas leak designated as special disaster zone

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Area of gas leak designated as special disaster zone

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불산(불화수소) 누출 사고가 일어난 경북 구미시 산동면 봉산리에서 8일 경북도 관계자가 과수 피해 정도를 조사하고 있다. [연합뉴스]

The government has designated an area affected by a massive gas leak from the Gumi National Industrial Complex in Gumi, North Gyeongsang, as a special disaster zone. The decision was made in response to snowballing damage to people and farms near the leak site.

The Prime Minister’s Office announced the designation yesterday following a meeting of relevant vice ministers held at the Central Government Complex in Seoul.

With the designation, the contaminated area is entitled to special financial aid from the government for recovery efforts. Residents in the contaminated area are also subject to compensation and tax cuts and also able to delay their tax payments, pension bills and public insurance costs.

The announcement of the designation came four days after the government sent its first team of on-site inspectors to the affected area in Gumi Friday for a three-day assignment, where many residents reported having been affected by the gas and local crops have withered.

The government is under growing criticism over its slow response to the disaster. The fact that the authorities sent its inspection team eight days after the accident is one main complaint.

The accident occurred on Sep. 27. At 3:43 p.m. when a tanker truck containing hydrofluoric acid at the Hube Global plant of the Gumi industrial complex developed a leak during the unloading process when workers were transferring the gas from the tanker through a hose.

The accident claimed the lives of five workers at the scene. Some eight tons of hydrofluoric acid, a gas that can lead to blindness and respiratory problems and harm lungs, bones and nervous system, was leaked.

The extent of damage done to residents and land near the leak site has continued to rise in the aftermath of the massive leak. As of yesterday, 3,178 people, including the five casualties, have been hospitalized or received medical treatment for exposure to the poisonous acid. People are coughing up blood and having trouble breathing.

The size of farmlands and orchards affected by the leak also continues to grow. The Gumi City Government reported yesterday 372 hectares (919 acres) of land has been damaged, up from the 212 hectares reported Sunday.

By Kang Jin-kyu [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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