CHENGDU, CHINA — A stockpile of chemicals being used to disinfect an earthquake-shattered town caught fire Thursday, injuring soldiers doing relief work, as heavy rain added to the misery of survivors in tents or lean-tos.
The official New China News Agency reported that more than 800 people were evacuated from the town of Leigu, in devastated Beichuan County, to avoid a cloud of chlorine gas caused by the blaze.
China Central TV showed soldiers extinguishing the blaze and several who were gasping for air being treated by medics.
"The soldiers have inhaled the fumes, it has affected their bodies, and they are in the military hospital now," said a soldier, identified by CCTV as the leader of the fire crew. His name was not given. He said 61 soldiers were injured. New China News Agency reported that four people were injured. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the different injury tolls.
It was not immediately clear why the bleach ignited, though substances in it can become explosive if heated or mixed with hydrocarbons such as those in diesel fuel.