Several theories have emerged as causes for the unfortunate gas leak incident from a chemical plant of a multinational firm in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam that claimed over 10 lives and sickened nearly 1000 people.
In a latest remark on the cause of the mishap, police officer Swaroop Rani in Visakhapatnam was reported as saying that the gas leaked out of two 5,000-tonne tanks that had been unattended due to the lockdown.
“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,” the officer told AFP.
The incident took place at the plant of LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd in Venkatapuram. The leak occurred at around 3:30 am today morning at the chemical plant, that was shut due to the countrywide lockdown.
Andhra Pradesh’s Industry Minister Mekapati Goutham Reddy has said the negligence by LG Polymers led to gas leak from its plant in Visakhapatnam.
The minister said the company management would have to own the responsibility for the tragedy, which affected people in surrounding villages.
“A responsible company like LG should have taken extra precautions,” the minister said. He said the volume of the gas leaked was not much and hence there will be no further harm to human lives.
Meanwhile, the Andhra Pradesh government has ordered a probe into the incident, the state police chief said in Amaravati.
Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy held a high-level review meeting to take stock of the situation and ordered a probe into the matter, Andhra Pradesh DGP D Gautam Sawang said.
An ex gratia of Rs 1 Crore each will be given to the families of the deceased, the chief minister announced. Also, a compensation of Rs 10 Lakh will be given to those on ventilator.
The top police officer also said there was no more leakage of gas and the situation was now “stable and under control”.
“How the gas leaked and why the neutraliser at the plant did not prove effective in containing the leak will all be investigated. Styrene, though, is not a poisonous gas and can be fatal only if inhaled in excess quantity,” Sawang said.
People in five surrounding villages, in a three km radius were reported to have got sick after inhaling the gas.
Around 800 persons were initially rushed for treatment to various hospitals after complaining of breathing difficulties, and burning sensation in the eyes. Currently, over 240 people with health complications are undergoing treatment at the King George Hospital, Visakhapatnam and 20 of them are on ventilator support, the police official said.
Panic struck in surrounding areas following a suspected gas leak in a chemical factory in the RR Venkatapuram village in Andhra Pradesh’s Vishakhapatnam. People were seen running helter-skelter. Eyewitness said that many people were lying unconscious on the ground.
Director General of Police Gautam Sawang said the police received the information about the gas leak through dial 100 in the early hours of Thursday. “Quick response teams were deployed soon after the outbreak and people were evacuated to safe places.”
National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), Andhra Pradesh Special Police (APSP) and nearby police swung into action to rescue and shift people to safe places.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, earlier in the day, spoke to Andhra Pradesh CM regarding the situation in Visakhapatnam and assured all help and support.
A meeting of the disaster management agency, NDMA was also called by the Prime Minister on the incident.
Meanwhile, President Ram Nath Kovind and several other leaders including Rahul Gandhi expressed shock over the incident.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notices to Andhra Pradesh government and Centre in connection with the Vizag gas leak.
The plant makes polystyrene, a versatile plastic used in fiberglass, rubber and latex and for making toys and appliances among other things. Set up in 1961 as Hindustan Polymers, the company was taken over by South Korea’s LG Chem and renamed LG Polymers India in 1997.
LG Chem Ltd, meanwhile, said in a statement that the gas emitted in the leak can cause nausea and dizziness when inhaled. It said it was seeking to ensure casualties received treatment quickly. It added that it was investigating how the leak occurred.
“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,” said LG Chem, the owner of LG Polymers.
The incident has reminded many of the 1984 Bhopal Gas leak, one of the worst industrial disasters in history when gas leaked from a pesticide plant operated by Union Carbide killing around 3,500 people.