Vietnam gas stations pose imminent threat

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Firefighters attempt to extinguish a gasoline tanker ablaze at a military-run filling station in Hanoi June 3, 2013.

A fire that raged for hours at a gas station in downtown Hanoi last week has left residents of Vietnam's two biggest cities frightened as so many of them live near filling stations.

According to statistics from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City authorities, filling stations now located amidst residential areas were established several dozens of years ago. Many stations, already too close to people's homes, also fail to meet other safety standards.

At least three gas stations can be seen along the 1.5 kilometer stretch of road that runs from the Lang Ha-Giang Vo intersection to 233 Kham Thien Street.

A filling station located on 179 De La Thanh Street, is surrounded by businesses which pose potential fire hazards. Next to the station is a company manufacturing steel and metal devices, and opposite it are two welding shops.

A sidewalk tea shop is situated just four meters away from the station. There, customers sit and smoke without special concern for their ashes or burning butts.

De La Thanh Street is narrow and tends to suffer from traffic congestion, especially when tank trucks enter the filling station.

"For over the last 10 years, since the station opened, we have been living in fear," said the tea shop's owner.

"People living near the station have to inhale gasoline fumes."

Ticking time bombs

On June 3, a tank truck at the Military Petroleum Corporation's station No. 9 located on 2B Tran Hung Dao Street in Hoan Kiem District caught fire at around 1:30 p.m.

According to eyewitnesses, gasoline leaked from the truck, flowing all the way to an eatery and motorbike repair shop more than 30 meters away. The fire ignited there and quickly spread to the truck. 

Twelve people, mostly firefighters, were injured. It took around six hours for the fire to be completely extinguished.

After the accident, Hoan Kiem District's firefighting police reported that up to 11 filling stations in the district are located near residential areas.

"As regulated, a filling station must be 50 meters away from other public works, and 100 meters away from areas that pose high risks of fire or explosion. However, most filling stations fail to meet these standards," an unnamed official from Hoan Kiem District's firefighting police told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper. 

According to statistics from Hanoi Firefighting Police Department, over a fifth of the approximately 500 filling stations across the city do not meet fire safety standards.

Last April, the local government ruled that 10 filling stations must be cleared away; 45 must be relocated; and 52 must be upgraded.

But none of the 10 aforementioned stations have been demolished.  

Major-general Nguyen Duc Nghi, director of the department, told the press there has been loose management over the city's filling stations. 

He said the department has received lots of complaints from residents, who wanted to know why filling stations located near markets or crowded areas still exist.

Nghi said the city's limited land area combined with the increasing number of vehicles has hindered the relocation of fuel stations.

It would cause trouble for vehicles if the stations are moved to suburban districts, he said.

He said his department would inspect all filling stations once again and ask the municipal Department of Industry and Trade to take measures against those fail to meet safety standards.

HCMC has more than 490 filling stations, many of which are located next to residential areas, schools and high-rises.  

The HCMC Department of Industry and Trade said it acknowledged the importance of enforcing safety standards, but that it also must consider the interests of fuel traders and customers.

Therefore, it asked local government to loosen filling station regulations.

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As a result, the HCMC People's Committee, the municipal government, has allowed filling stations previously ordered to be demolished or relocated to merely upgrade themselves instead. Such upgrades would include expanding existing stations to further seal them off from nearby buildings and installing more firefighting equipment.

Following the fire in Hanoi, the department has asked filling stations to strictly follow rules pertaining to fuel extraction and filling.

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