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Evacuation around India chemical plant continues after gas leak kills 11

Christian Fernsby |
Authorities in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on Friday continued evacuating people around the chemical plant that leaked toxic gas, leaving at least 11 dead besides taking hundreds ill.

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Topics: INDIA   

Police officials denied reports about renewed leak from the LG Polymers plant but said the evacuation was part of precautions.

According to officials, work on evacuating people up to five-kilometer radius was going on.

"The police are working on evacuating people up to a five-kilometer radius from the plant," a police official said. "Several people have started moving out on their own."

Early on Thursday when people were asleep gas leak from the chemical plant in Visakhapatnam jolted them out of their sleep.

People complained of irritation in eyes and some gasped for breath.

Television footage showed emergency workers in the area rushing to help victims, some of whom appeared to be listless and disoriented. Several victims lay unconscious roadside, as some people fanned them while others rushed to carry them into ambulances.

"I could feel the itchiness in my eyes. The air was heavy with pungent smell of gas," said Jaikumar Santhan, a local who lives about 400 meters from the spot. "I was feeling drowsy and slightly breathless."

Santhan alerted his wife and both of whom rushed outside. To their surprise, they saw panic-stricken people in neighbourhood struggling for breath and calling for help.

"There I sensed the danger that something has happened," he said.

Although a large number have been admitted to hospital, officials said most of them will be able to recover.

"The gas that leaked is called Styrene. This gas is poisonous in the sense that could immediately cause irritation, redness of eyes, shortness of breath, vomiting, nausea and asphyxia," Srijana Gummalla, commissioner of the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation said.

"The plant has been shut down with immediate effect. We are providing drinking water and food to the evacuated people so that they are not exposed to the poisonous gas anymore. More than 350 people are there in hospitals taking treatment and most of them are stable."

Gummalla said the government has ordered an enquiry into the incident.

The incident evoked memories of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy that left at least 3,787 people dead and another 500,000 injured when methyl isocyanate leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

LG Polymers said in a statement it was investigating the cause of the incident and was looking at ways "to provide speedy treatment" for those affected.

Locals said the gas leak also killed around two dozen domestic animals, including cows and buffaloes.

On Thursday evening, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy reached Visakhapatnam and held a review meeting on the gas leak with the district officials. He announced monetary compensation for the victim families, besides support to the victims undergoing treatment in the hospitals.

The chemical plant, which makes polystyrene products, was being reopened after India began to relax a nationwide lockdown imposed on March 25 to contain the spread of the COVID-19.

Meanwhile, an environmental think tank in New Delhi, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), stated that over three tonnes of styrene gas leaked into the air from one of the storage tanks at the LG Polymers factory in Visakhapatnam and quickly spread into nearby areas on Thursday.

"What seems to be the case is that the plant management, in its haste to restart the plant, ignored the protocol of doing maintenance of the plant before resuming operations. This, combined with the lack of proper storage of the gas - not maintained at the temperature required - and faulty fixtures could have resulted in the accident," CSE said.

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