BEIJING, April 16: About 150,000 people in a southwestern Chinese town were forced to evacuate their homes on Friday after a chemical plant spewed toxic chlorine gas into the air.

The bustling industrial city of Chongqing, where the accident took place, was rocked by a gas field explosion in December that killed 234 people and turned the area into a death zone.

Explosions that accompanied the leak on Friday at the Tianyuan Chemical Industry Plant killed at least five people, the official Xinhua news agency said, but a government official in the town said there had been no deaths.

"It was only a minor explosion," the official said. All seven chlorine tanks at the factory were leaking poisonous gas, Xinhua said. The leak, which started on Thursday, had caused respiratory problems in 10 factory workers, the news agency quoted rescue worker Miao Guangkui as saying.

The danger had basically passed, Miao was quoted as saying. Rescue workers in protective gear sealed off the plant. The accident was the third chlorine gas leak at the plant since last year, Xinhua quoted a plant worker as saying. -Reuters/AFP

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