At least five people have been killed and several hundred admitted to local hospitals after a gas leak at a chemicals plant on the east coast of India, police said on Thursday.
“We can confirm at least five deaths right now. More will be confirmed later. At least 70 people in the nearby hospitals are in an unconscious state and overall 200 to 500 locals are still getting treatment (at the hospitals),” said police official Swaroop Rani in the port city of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh state.
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She said the incident happened at a plant operated by LG Polymers and that gas leaked out of two 5,000-tonne tanks that had been unattended due to India’s coronavirus lockdown in place since late March.
Spoke to officials of MHA and NDMA regarding the situation in Visakhapatnam, which is being monitored closely. I pray for everyone’s safety and well-being in Visakhapatnam.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 7, 2020
“It was left there because of the lockdown. It led to a chemical reaction and heat was produced inside the tanks, and the gas leaked because of that,” Rani, an assistant commissioner, told AFP news agency.
“We received an emergency call from the local villagers around 3:30am local time [22:00 GMT] in the morning today. They said there was some gas in the air,” she said.
“We reached there immediately. One could feel the gas in the air and it was not possible for any of us to stay there for more than a few minutes. Prepared rescue workers started working from around 4am [22:30 GMT].”
Images posted on Twitter showed emergency services including police officers, firefighters and ambulances at the location. However, Al Jazeera could not verify the authenticity of the images.
G Kishan Reddy, the deputy home minister, told Indian news agency ANI that the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams have been asked to provide immediate relief measures.
SN Pradhan, NDRF chief, told ANI that 80 to 90 percent of people had been evacuated.
South Korean battery maker LG Chemical Ltd, the owner of the facility, said the situation was “under control”.
“The gas leak situation is now under control and we are exploring all ways to provide speedy treatment for those who suffer from inhaling the leaked gas,” said LG Chem, which owns the Visakhapatnam plant operator LG Polymers India.
Children affected by a gas leak lay on beds at the King George Hospital in Visakhapatnam [AFP]
“We are investigating the extent of damage and exact cause of the leak and deaths,” it added in a statement.
According to the Times of India newspaper, the incident led to panic among locals in a radius of three kilometres (two miles) around the plant with many people seen lying unconscious on the roads.
Others were having breathing problems and complained of rashes on their body and sore eyes, it added.
Ambulances were shown arriving to collect the injured on the roadside to take them to hospitals in the area.
India witnessed in December 1984 one of the worst industrial disasters in history when gas leaked from a pesticide plant in the central city of Bhopal.
Around 3,500 people, mainly in shanties around the plant operated by Union Carbide, died in the days that followed and thousands more in the following years. People continue to suffer its after-effects today.
Government statistics say that at least 100,000 people living near the Union Carbide plant have been victims of chronic illnesses.
Survivors still suffer from ailments such as respiratory and kidney problems, hormonal imbalances, mental illness and several forms of cancer.