A FIRE swept through the Srisailam Left Bank Power Station on the Telangana-Andhra Pradesh border late on Thursday night, leaving nine dead, including five engineers of Telangana State Power Generation Corporation (TSGenco). The 11 who survived said the engineers had stayed back to try and control the flames, urging them to leave through an emergency exit.
The bodies of the five engineers, including a woman engineer, and four others were found on the ground floor of the underground powerhouse. They are believed to have died of suffocation with the thick smoke that filled the powerhouse making rescue efforts difficult till Friday afternoon.
The engineers who died were Sunder Naik, Mohan Kumar, Fatima Begum, Srinivas Goud and E Venkat Rao. The others who died were two TSGenco junior attendants Ram Babu and Kiran Kumar, and two employees of a company given the contract for maintenance work at the powerhouse, Vinesh Kumar and Mahesh Kumar.
The survivors said the fire spread quickly, with smoke enveloping the powerhouse as well as the 1-km-long tunnel providing access to it and the four storeys of the plant that lie underground. The engineers used extinguishers to control the flames and stayed back to try shutting down the unit that had caught fire, getting trapped in the process, the survivors said.
Preliminary investigations indicate the fire started from a short-circuit on the ground floor. The rescue team including the National Disaster Response Force could enter the tunnel and powerhouse only after 3 pm Friday, some 15 hours later. Apart from the smoke, the fact that the power supply to the plant was cut off to prevent more damage, leaving the tunnel in darkness, also made rescue difficult.
Energy Minister G Jagdish Reddy, who is at the spot, said, “As per the statements of the survivors, we think that by the time the nine realised they couldn’t control the fire, it was too late. The five Assistant Engineers, who were senior to the others by several years, ordered their juniors and others to leave.”
Among those who escaped were four employees of the company that had been outsourced maintenance work at the powerhouse by Amaron Batteries.
Falling on the Telangana side of the Srisailam reservoir and dam on the Krishna river, the 900 MW Left Bank Power House is part of a joint project of Telangana and Andhra. On the Andhra side lies half of the dam and the Right Bank Power House.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao expressed shock at the loss of lives and ordered a CID inquiry. The state government has announced ex-gratia of Rs 50 lakh for the kin of the engineers and Rs 20 lakh for the others.
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