Shop remained open after alarm was raised

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 12:00am

The Heshengyuan soy milk store was still selling breakfast at least two hours after the first victim was sent to hospital, according to Hong Kong-based newspaper Wen Wei Po.

The pro-Beijing paper yesterday quoted a doctor who worked in the emergency unit of the People's Liberation Army 83 Hospital in Tangshan as saying he treated the first victim as early as 4.50am.

According to the report, as many as 50 or 60 patients were taken to the emergency unit shortly after 5am on Saturday. All complained they had fallen ill after eating breakfast. The report said the doctor then called a police hotline asking officers to close the shop.

However, the newspaper said it had been told Heshengyuan was still selling fried dough and sesame cakes after 6am.

By about 7am, more than 200 patients had been admitted to the hospital and at least six had died. The report said the same doctor called the police hotline again to report the outbreak.

According to official reports, hundreds of victims were sent to 10 different hospitals in the area for treatment.

The government has imposed a news blackout on the poisoning outbreak in Tangshan.

Hospital staff yesterday refused to comment or disclose the number of patients still being treated. Central and local television did not report the case last night.

A message posted on the chat room of the official People's Daily Web site said the Tangshan government should be held responsible because a large number of the poisoning cases had happened after the doctor alerted police.

The message quoted an unidentified source who as many as 400 people were poisoned - 340 of them after the police had been alerted.