How an Expectant Mother Died in Qingdao

Efforts to Save Her Were Met With Indifference and Frustration

One of the fifty-five people to die in an explosion on November 22 at a pipeline owned by China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (Sinopec) in the eastern city of Qingdao was a twenty-three-year-old pregnant woman named Chen Na.

Her husband, who declined to give his full name, told Caixin how he frantically tried to help his wife in her final hours.

Chen, who was seven months pregnant, worked in the after-sales service department of Yihe Electronics in Huangdao District. Her husband works on an assembly line at the company. The couple graduated from the same trade school several years ago and found jobs at the company.

That morning the couple walked to work together as usual. They noticed that the Qinghuangdao Road was closed for repairs. They took another route to work, where a co-worker told them an oil pipeline under nearby Zhaitangdao Street was leaking, and the street was closed as well.

A security guard told Chen’s husband that repair work at the intersection of these two roads started early in the morning. Yihe is one of the three companies near the intersection. The other two are a logistics firm and the Lidong Chemical Factory.

About 10:30 a.m., Chen entered a room of the plant that was near Zhaitangdao Street. Just then, her husband heard a deafening blast. Stones rained down on the roof of the plant.

“It must be an earthquake,” the man thought to himself. He and co-workers then ran to the street to see what had happened.

He did not know that oil had leaked from an underground pipeline and into the sewage system and that a huge blast was somehow set off. Outside the factory, streets were torn apart. Stones and debris were strewn everywhere.

Suddenly, the husband thought about his wife, and he ran back inside the factory to look for her. He found that the area where she worked was badly damaged. His wife’s supervisor told him that Chen’s co-workers found her unconscious and took her outside. When Chen’s husband found her he saw no injuries, but she still had not come to.

Yihe used company vans to ferry injured employees, including Chen, to the nearest medical facility, the Huangdao Traditional Chinese Medical Hospital.

The young woman was still unconscious when the van she was in arrived at the hospital. Her husband jumped out of the vehicle and ran into the emergency room, shouting “Explosion! Explosion! A pregnant woman was injured!”

No one paid him any attention, so he stopped a nurse to ask for help. The nurse told him to take his wife to the department of gynecology in a wheelchair. When someone told the nurse that a pregnant woman could not be put in a wheelchair, she found a stretcher.

Patients and the relatives visiting them helped the man move his unconscious wife to the gynecology department on the fifth floor. A doctor and two nurses asked about Chen’s condition, then called for doctors back in the emergency room.

Then the lights went dark because the blast knocked out the district’s electricity.

A gynecologist performed a quick check and told the husband the infant was okay, but Chen should be taken to a different hospital. The husband, this time helped by the gynecologist and nurses, took his wife back downstairs.

By then she was floating in and out of consciousness. Her husband repeated a sentence to her: “Look at me, I am here.”

Once outside the hospital Chen’s husband saw the company van had gone to fetch more injured workers, and he had to find a new vehicle. The only ambulance was from the Lidong Chemical Factory, but the driver said he could only help people from his company. Injured people were getting out of another ambulance, but the driver also refused to help.

So the gynecologist and nurses helped the husband call a public bus from a traffic dispatch center. Half an hour after arriving at the Traditional Chinese Medical Hospital, Chen’s husband carried her onto the bus, whose driver headed for the Qingdao University Medical School Affiliated Hospital.

The roads were chaotic in the aftermath of the explosion. While ambulances cut through traffic, the bulky public bus could hardly move.

Minutes after the bus set off, blood came out of Chen’s mouth. There was no first aid equipment on the bus, and the gynecologist and nurses could not do much.

Then Chen started having trouble breathing, and the doctor said he could not feel a pulse.

Desperate, Chen’s husband carried her off the bus and stopped an ambulance in the street. The group finally arrived at the next hospital at 1 p.m., two-and-a-half hours after the blast shook Huangdao.

Minutes after entering the hospital, Chen and her unborn child were pronounced dead.

‘It’s Very Complicated’

Days after the blast, the local government has still not released the names of the fifty-four other victims. A spokesman for the Qingdao government said that “releasing names requires consent from victims’ relatives. We are working with relatives on that.”

Nine other people are missing and scores are injured.

Official statements and Caixin’s investigation indicate the blast happened because oil leaked from a pipeline into the sewage system and spread. Somehow, fumes from the oil were set alight.

The design of Sinopec’s pipeline violated national regulations that stipulate oil pipelines must be at least fifteen meters away from residential areas and twenty meters from factories. No digging or construction is allowed within five meters of pipelines.

Guo Jishan, an official in the Qingdao government’s general office, told the media that over twenty years of development, underground pipelines in Huangdao were a mess.

“There are at least eleven kinds of pipelines installed in Huangdao,” Guo said. “It’s very complicated.”

The State Council, the country’s cabinet, has sent a team to investigate the disaster. President Xi Jinping has visited Qingdao.

People who live near the site of the explosion gathered at a government office on November 27 to seek help moving out of the area. The local government said on Weibo, the country’s version of Twitter, that it was closing the pipeline that leaked and moving others.

Business, Energy, Health
Sinopec, Qingdao