The death toll in the incident of poisonous styrene gas leak at LG Polymers Ltd, a chemical factory in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam district, mounted to eight with five others succumbing to death at a hospital while undergoing treatment, the police said.
The leakage of styrene gas might have occurred from the storage tank of the plant, state industries minister M Goutham Reddy told reporters on Thursday.
The minister said styrene in liquid form was stored in the tank and it would take gaseous form at a temperature of more than 20 degrees Celsius. “The cap of the storage tank is learnt to have come off and by the time the engineers sealed the gap and neutralised the liquid, the damage was done,” he stated.
He said the company was asked 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, adding that none of the company’s employees died of the gas leakage.
“As of now, the death of eight people has been confirmed. The condition of some others is critical and they have been kept on ventilator. Many others who have fallen sick have also been undergoing treatment in the hospital,” Director General of Police Gautam Sawang said.
The DGP said prima facie, the leakage of gas appeared to be an accident. “However, we shall look into the possibility of any negligence by the company authorities,” he said.
The LG polymers company was making arrangements for reopening the plant from Thursday, after more than 40 days of closure amid the coronavirus lockdown.
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, who reviewed the situation, rushed to Visakhapatnam to get the first-hand account of the mishap and call on the people undergoing treatment in the Government King George Hospital.
Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up CM Reddy and enquired about the incident. He assured to extend all possible help to the state government to tackle the tragedy, including sending of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams.
The incident happened at around 3 am at LG Polymers Ltd at R R Venkatapuram area near Gopalapatnam, closer to Visakhapatnam international airport, when people in the nearby colonies were fast asleep.
Many people who rushed on to the streets were unable to bear the pungent smell of the gas and collapsed on the roads. A large number of people, mostly children and old people, are learnt to have fainted within their homes, assistant commissioner of police Swaroopa Rani said.
“The police were unable to enter the colonies initially because of the foul smell. They went around the colonies asking the people to come out of their homes and move to safer places,” she said.
An ambulance driver who was rushed to move the sick to the hospitals also was suffocated. One person who got blinded due to burning of eyes accidentally fell into a dried-up well and died.
Scenes of people collapsing on the roads due to suffocation and parents carrying their children in their arms, taking them to ambulances went viral in the media.
With the help of the police, hundreds of people managed to move to safer places within hours. Those who fell sick were rushed to King George Hospital and some other private hospitals. Scores of cattle and dogs also died of poisonous gas leakage.
Teams from the NDRF and the Eastern Naval Command were also pressed into service to evacuate people from the nearby colonies. Fire tenders from Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd were trying to reduce the impact of the gas using water.
The gas spread to 20 nearby colonies and caused suffocation to the residents. Local legislator P Gana Babu said ambulances meant for coronavirus cases were diverted to move the people from around the place to safer places.
District collector Vinay Chand told reporters that about 200 people fell ill due to suffocation. Locals said many people remained in their houses and were not responding to calls. Officials advised people not to move towards Gopalapatnam till noon.
State minister for tourism M Srinivasa Rao and deputy superintendent of police Udaya Bhaskar visited affected colonies.