The estimated size of an oil spill off China's northeast coast doubled Wednesday, as workers raced against the clock to contain a growing environmental disaster.
Oil is now spread over about 165 square miles of water, according to Chinese officials.
By comparison, though, that's still nowhere near the magnitude of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, estimated at 2,700 square miles of visible surface slick, according to the Associated Press on July 16. (See interactive map of BP spill from the New York Times here.)
Chinese oil workers struggled to contain the spill, with dramatic photos from Greenpeace China showing two men thrashing around in oil-clogged waters, trying to keep afloat.
Firefighters rescued the two men. But China's state-run newswire Xinhua reported that another firefighter died in a separate incident after a wave swept him away while he was trying to fix a boat's pump under water.
The disaster began Friday in the port city of Dalian when an oil pipeline exploded. Crude oil leaked into the Yellow Sea, then burned in a huge firestorm for 15 hours. Dalian is China's second biggest oil import port.
The affected Chinese province mobilized "all staff under the age of 50" at its maritime affairs office to join in the cleanup, Xinhua reported. Tourist beaches near Dalian were closed. As of Tuesday, 40 special "oil-skimming" vessels, 800 boats, and oil-eating bacteria had joined the fight, Xinhua said.
While initial estimates were that the port would remain closed for a week to 10 days, according to the China Securities Journal, shipping container operations at Dalian Port returned to normal by Tuesday at 11 a.m.
In a statement posted on its website Tuesday, Greenpeace China's head climate campaigner Yang Ailun said the accident highlighted the need for serious energy reform and a shift to renewable sources.
"From the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Dalian to the numerous coal mine accidents, it is tragically obvious that economic development built upon fossil fuels is unsustainable and comes at a high price," Yang said.
As of 2006, China depended on oil for 20 percent of its energy needs, the second-largest source after coal, at 70 percent, according to the US Department of Energy.