11 dead, 1,000 reportedly sick, 800 shifted to hospital after gas leak at plant in Andhra Pradesh’s Vishakhapatnam

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Visakhapatnam: An affected woman being taken for treatment at King George Hospital after a major chemical gas leakage at LG Polymers industry in RR Venkatapuram village on May 7, 2020. (PTI)

Enamul Hafiz Latifee compiles,

Eleven people, including two young children, were killed and over 1,000 are sick after gas leaked overnight at a chemical plant in Andhra Pradesh’s Vishakhapatnam. Up to 25 are critical, said the National Disaster Response Force, declaring the incident a chemical disaster.

 

Toxic styrene gas escaped from an LG Polymers facility that had been shut for over 40 days due to the nationwide coronavirus lockdown. At daybreak, people were found lying motionless in lanes, ditches, and near houses.

At least three surrounding villages were evacuated and officials went house-to-house, breaking in to pull out unconscious victims. Around midnight Friday, there were reports of another gas leak at the same plant but were dismissed by Andhra Pradesh’s Director General of Police Gautam Savang. “No gas leak again. Just evacuation as a precautionary measure,” he told, reported by NDTV.

Elsewhere also, there were videos of parents carrying unconscious children in their arms on the streets and running to get medical help. Many others were seen dazed sitting on the pavements. Some more lay on the roads, a young woman among them was seen collapsing.

The municipal corporation tweeted that people in an area within an approximately 3-kilometre radius of the plant were vulnerable.

The incident evoked memories of the gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhopal in 1984. That incident, counted among one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, had killed 3,500 people.

In Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dialed Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and promised all the help that he would need. Jagan Mohan Reddy left Visakhapatnam soon after.

PM Modi also called a meeting of the National Disaster Management Authority that he leads. “I pray for everyone’s safety and well-being in Visakhapatnam,” PM Modi said in a tweet before the meeting started.

According to news agency ANI, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) chief SN Pradhan said about 1,000 to 1,500 people had been evacuated by the authorities and more than 800 taken to hospital.

Most of the people taken to hospital were later discharged.

Visakhapatnam District Medical and Health Officer Tirumala Rao told reporters, around 2 pm that 300 people were still admitted to various hospitals.

 

Late afternoon, Pradhan told a news briefing in Delhi that 11 people had died in the incident.

Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has announced Rs 1 crore compensation for the next of kin of the dead besides Rs 10 lakh to people who have been put on ventilator and Rs 25,000 to those who were treated as outpatients. The chief minister also announced that a committee has been set up to probe the incident and the government was prepared to have the company shift to a different location if recommended by the panel.

 

Gas leaked at 2.30-3 am

The gas leak is reported to have been spotted around between 2.30am and 3 am at LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd facility at RR Venkatapuram area near Gopalapatnam.

Assistant commissioner of police Swaroopa Rani said many people who woke up to the pungent smell of the gas ran out. Many, mostly children and old people, fainted at home. Police teams that went to the villages initially had to retreat for fear of being poisoned.

Andhra industries minister M Goutham Reddy said styrene gas appeared to have leaked from the storage tank of the plant. It seems the cap of the storage tank came off and by the time the engineers sealed the gap and neutralised the liquid, the damage was done.

 

The company had been told to adhere to all safety protocols before reopening the plant after lockdown relaxations. “It is for the company to prove that there was no negligence on its part,” Reddy said.

South Korea-headquartered LG Chem said operations at the plant had been suspended because of a nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus outbreak and was preparing to resume operations.

“We are currently assessing the extent of the damage on residents in the town and are taking all necessary measures to protect residents and employees in collaboration with related organizations,” LG Chem, the owner of LG Polymers, said in a statement, according to news agency Reuters.

It said the spokesman separately said a night shift maintenance worker had discovered the leak from a tank. The cause of the leak is being investigated, the spokesman said.

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