Visakhapatnam: Eleven people have died and at least 200 are hospitalised after a gas leak from a plant belonging to LG Polymers, a South Korean company, at Venkatapuram near Gopalapatnam in Visakhapatnam early on Thursday. The leak has now been brought under control.
Two kids – Kundha Shreya (6) and N Grishma (9) – are among the dead. Another victim was A Chandramowli (19), a first-year student and the son of a head constable.
According to official sources, three died in Venkatapuram as they fell into a canal while running to escape the toxic fumes. Five people were declared brought dead at the King George Hospital.
Styrene, a flammable liquid used to make polystyrene plastics, rubber and latex, leaked from one of the unit’s chambers around 3.00 am when people were asleep.
Hundreds of people, within a radius of 5 km from the plant, ran outdoors in panic as the toxic fumes spread in Venkatapuram and nearby villages. Several people fell unconscious on the roads.
Out of the 190 admitted in different wards of King George Hospital (KGH), 45 are children. Out of them, six kids are in critical condition. The doctors are using equipment used by Navy personnel. Through this, six members can be provided oxygen at a time. About 200 doctors are on duty as of now.
Locals said, they initially didn’t know what was happening. The district administration rushed ambulances and shifted the affected to the nearest hospitals. A majority were admitted to the King George Hospital.
Ambulances, RTC buses, autos and four-wheelers were pressed into service and many were seen running with unconscious children in their arms, crying for help. What is not known is the fate of many who were asleep in their houses. Many cattle were also found dead on the roads.
Police, National Disaster Response Force and the State Disaster Response Force personnel and even the Navy were deployed in the rescue operations. People within a five km radius were evacuated, after being advised to cover their nose and mouth with a wet cloth.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with the officials of the Home Ministry and the National Disaster Management Authority. He tweeted that the situation is being closely monitored.
Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy expressed anguish over the tragedy and directed the collector to leave no stone unturned to help the affected and bring the situation under control. After visiting Vizag to meet the affected people and to take stock of the situation, he announced Rs 1 crore as compensation for next of the kin.
District Collector Vinay Chand told media, “We received first information around 4.15 am. We estimate that approximately 200 people may have been affected,” the Collector said.
In his briefing to CM Jagan Reddy, the Collector was said to have explained that the plant had two tanks and the gas had leaked through one of them. The styrene in the tanks are usually in liquid form, but the apparatus supposed to maintain the temperature malfunctioned. This led to temperature rising without anybody realising it and the styrene turned into gas and leaked. How and why this happened remains to be probed.
Police Commissioner RK Meena said 1,000-1500 people were in the LG Polymers plant at the time of the accident but clarified that none of them had died.
The scenes at Venkatapuram were heart-wrenching with people lying on the roadside and crying.
No alarm was sounded by LG Polymers soon after the gas leaked which meant the people were caught unaware.
The collector informed that the accident occurred while the plant was in the process of being re-commissioned after the lockdown was relaxed.
An eyewitness, who was at King George Hospital, said, “My eyes are burning. I collapsed twice after I opened the doors early morning. I don’t even know how my husband, myself and our two children have come to the hospital. My two children are being treated here.”
Many said they just ran in fear and complained of difficulty in breathing and had irritation in their eyes.
A few policemen, including DCP Udaya Bhaskar, involved in rescue operations also fell sick.
Relatives of the patients are a worried lot as several of them are uncertain where their family members are. Patients were scattered in four hospitals — Care, KIMS, KGH and Pradhama hospitals.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah said, “The incident in Visakhapatnam is disturbing. Have spoken to the NDMA officials and concerned authorities. We are continuously and closely monitoring the situation. I pray for the well-being of the people of Visakhapatnam.”
The NDRF DG informed that a “Total (of) 27 persons are involved in the relief and rescue operation being conducted by NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) who are expert in dealing with industrial leakage. 80 to 90 per cent evacuation is completed.”
“Instructed NDRF teams to provide necessary relief measures. Continuously monitoring the situation. Hundreds of people affected is an unprecedented and unfortunate event. Spoke to Home Secretary, Government of India and requested him to provide required aid. My condolences to the families of the people who passed away due to gas leak. Spoke to the Chief Secretary and DGP of the state to take stock of the situation,” said G Kishan Reddy, MoS Home Affairs.