The Chinese city of Leshan witnessed a mass exodus and widespread panic following a gas leak at a chemical factory on Thursday. People were seen fleeing the city in cars and bicycles with whatever they could carry with them.

The city in Sichuan province has many chemical plants. In one of the factories that produce polysilicon, "a small amount of hydrogen chloride gas" had leaked. Local authorities said that the gas leaked when the factory's exhaust treatment system failed after losing water and power supply.

Local residents took to Weibo's, China's Twitter-like platform, saying they had seen "thick white fog" coming from the plant in the city's Wutongqiao district since Wednesday night. As the news spread on Weibo, people started fleeing their homes and created a large traffic jam.

'Nothing to worry'

Traffic jam in Leshan
People fled their homes in rush following the gas leak incident Twitter/ Harlan Yang

However, local authorities including Zhang Guoqing, the district's party secretary, and departments in charge of environment monitoring rushed to the scene to alleviate the situation. After conducting tests on water and gas samples, they said that there was nothing to panic about as they didn't detect any toxic chemicals in the air, South China Morning Post reported.

"At present, after on-site investigations by the emergency and environmental protection departments, there has been no explosion in the hazardous chemical companies in our district. The entire region is carrying out a carpet inspection of the hazardous chemical companies in the region. Please do not believe or spread rumors," the authorities said on its official Weibo page.

Hydrogen chloride is a harmful chemical. It is colorless but has a strong suffocating odor. It turns to hydrochloric acid once it comes in contact with water. It can cause irritation to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract while high exposure can result in burns.

Hence, despite the assurances, netizens weren't convinced. They took to Weibo and called the assurances "bulls***". Some were not happy with the authorities' explanations. One user asked how much was "a small amount" and added, "how can it be harmless to the human body?".

A local resident told the Sixth Tone, "Fog turned so thick that I couldn't see anything. It lasted half an hour, then dissipated." The city, home to many chemical plants, has been in news for devastating flood with water rising above toes of the famous 71-meter tall Buddha statue. Authorities and volunteers teamed up to save the UNESCO world heritage site that was established in 723 AD.

In addition, China is not new to gas leaks as there have been many incidents in the past. In March last year, an explosion in a chemical factory in Yancheng city killed 78 and injured over 617. In June 2020, a gas tanker blast caused 19 deaths in Wenling, Zhejiang province.