Second chemical attack on Japanese station

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The Independent Online


in Yokohama

Hundreds of people were injured by phosgene gas in the port of Yokohama yesterday, in the second chemical weapon attack in Japan in a month.

Nearly 400 people were treated for headaches, nausea and pains in their eyes and throats after choking fumes spread through the city's central station and an in-coming passenger train.

At 12.50pm yesterdaylunchtime, a noxious smell - variously described as sulphurous burning and resembling solvent or nail varnish - was reported in the crowded underground passage beneath Yokohama's main railway station.

About a minute later passengers were seen disembarking from a train clutching their noses and mouths after similar acrid fumes were smelt moments before it arrived in Yokohama. The victims were ferried by ambulances to hospitals in Tokyo and Yokohama.

Twenty-two people were kept in hospital last night, several of them suffering blood disorders and liver damage.

Police eventually identified the toxic substances as phosgene or "choking gas", a chemical weapon which irritates the lungs and bronchial tubes causing coughing, breathing difficulties and lung damage. A milky liquid was reported on the floor of the underpass. Firemen removed about 20 containers from the station, which was quickly sealed and evacuated.

Among the emergency services that converged on central Yokohama was a squad of chemical weapons specialists from the military Self-Defence Force carrying protective suits and respiratory equipment. Train services were hardly disrupted and within four hours of the incident the final cordons were removed.

The attack comes almost exactly a month after another chemical weapon, the nerve gas sarin, killed 12 commuters and injured 5,500 on the Tokyo subway.

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