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Thick air, pungent smell: How gas leakage tragedy unfolded at Visakhapatnam’s LG Polymers plant

Visakhapatnam LG Polymers Gas Leakage: Thursday's incident evoked memories of Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984 when a gas leak at a factory of US chemical firm Union Carbide killed thousands.

By: Express Web Desk | Hyderabad, New Delhi | Updated: May 7, 2020 10:16:49 pm
Visakhapatnam LG Polymers gas leakage: Thick air, pungent smell - all you need to know the incident People carry a woman affected by a chemical gas leak in Vishakhapatnam (AP)

Eleven people, including a child, are dead and over hundreds have fallen ill following a gas leak from a chemical plant in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam on Thursday morning. People in the Gopalapatnam area, where the chemical plant is located, complained of irritation in eyes, breathlessness, nausea, and rashes on their bodies. As many as 25 people are critical and close to 1000 people have been evacuated.

While eight persons died due to inhaling the styrene gas, three were killed while trying to escape from the area. Thursday’s incident evoked memories of Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984 when a gas leak at a factory of US chemical firm Union Carbide killed thousands.

Follow Visakhapatnam gas leak LIVE updates

Here’s what you need to know about the gas leak in Visakhapatnam

Where did the gas leak take place?

The gas leak happened at the LG Polymer plant at Gopalapatnam on the outskirts of Visakhapatnam. Workers were preparing for the reopening of the plant today when gas started leaking in the early hours. An FIR has been registered against LG Polymers and an inquiry has been ordered.

READ | NDRF’s special team to fly to Vizag after PM holds meeting over gas tragedy

The LG Polymers was established in 1961 as Hindustan Polymers for manufacturing polystyrene and its co-polymers in Vizag. It was merged with McDowell &Co of the UB Group in 1978 and was taken over by South Korea-based LG Chem in 1997 which renamed it as LG Polymers. The factory manufactures general-purpose polystyrene and high impact polystyrene, expandable polystyrene, and engineering plastics compounds.

A crowd gathers outside the LG Polymers plant from where chemical gas leaked in Vishakhapatnam (AP)

An official of LG Polymers issued a statement that there was 1800 tonnes of styrene in the storage tank. He said that due to stagnation and changes in temperature it could have resulted in auto polymerization which could have caused vapourisation. “We are investigating the incident. Right now there is no leak as it has been contained. We will observe the facility for another four hours and give an all clear after a thorough inspection,” he said.

What is the cause of the gas leak?

The leak is suspected to have been from large tanks left unattended because of the nationwide lockdown to fight COVID-19, as per news reports. “Our initial information is that workers were checking a gas storage tank when it started leaking. Only a thorough investigation will reveal what exactly happened,” Industries Minister M Goutham Reddy said.

 Pungent air, deaths and chaos — Visakhapatnam gas leak in pictures

Officials said that the early morning air was thick with the pungent-smelling gas in a five km radius. Former BJP MLA Vishnu Kumar Raju who was travelling through the area said that even though the gas leak was contained, there was a pungent smell in the air in the area.

“The situation has been contained now and there is no reason to worry. There is no need to panic. The gas is not poisonous. It can fatal only if breathed in large doses. An FIR has been registered against LG Polymers and an inquiry has been ordered. Preliminary information suggests that styrene leaked from storage and although its antidote is another tank attacked to it we do not know what happened. The inquiry will look into it. At least 15 persons were at the factory to maintain it during the lockdown period and a few others reached there today to reopen operations,” Andhra Pradesh DGP Damodar Goutam Sawang said.

People pour water on a hatchling affected by a chemical gas leak in Vishakhapatnam (AP)

How many have been admitted to the hospital?

People found unconscious in lanes, ditches, and near houses were brought to the King George Hospital in the city. Children and the elderly were most affected. At least 20 persons have been kept on ventilators in hospitals while 246 persons remain admitted, the DGP said. An official at KGH said that the death toll is likely to go up. Emergency services personnel who were evacuating people also fell unconscious because of the gas leak.

“The most serious cases have been shifted to King George Hospital. The situation was very serious till 6 am as the poisonous gas leaked till then. Now, it has eased a bit and we are able to go into the affected villages. A large number of animals including pet dogs, livestock, and birds have died. A team of veterinary doctors has reached the villages to assess the situation. In a couple of hours, the situation should improve,” Vizag Collector V Vinay Chand said.

A National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) soldier is fitted with gear before he proceeds to the area from where chemical gas leaked in Vishakhapatnam (AP)

Five villages evacuated

People within a 3-km radius of the chemical plant have been affected. As a precautionary measure, the authorities have started evacuating five villages in the nearby area. Vizag Collector V Vinay Chand said: “The situation is being monitored with NDRF and SDRF officials at work. We are doing everything possible.” Residents complained that the gas leakage caused a burning sensation in the eyes extreme difficulty in breathing.

As soon as the police were informed of the gas leak, they went to the villages and sounded sirens and announced on loudspeakers asking people to evacuate. However, as most of the residents were fast asleep and cops had to break open doors to shift people some of whom had already become unconscious.

Precautions that Vizag residents can take

The Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation urged people to stay indoors and use a wet cloth to cover their nose and mouth. The GVMC said its officials are trying to reduce the impact of the gas leak by spraying water and public address systems are being used to ask people to use masks.

Political reactions on Vizag gas leak

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the situation is being monitored closely and he has spoken to the Ministry of Home Affairs and NDMA. “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,” PM Modi tweeted. The prime minister has also called for a meeting with NDMA at 11 am to discuss the situation in the city.

Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy enquired about the gas leak incident and directed the district officials to take every possible step to save lives and bring the situation under control. He has also left for Vizag and will visit the hospital.

Visakhapatnam: Affected people being taken to a hospital for treatment after a major chemical gas leakage at LG Polymers industry in RR Venkatapuram village, Visakhapatnam (PTI)

Home Minister Amit Shah said the incident is “disturbing” and that the government is looking into the situation. Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy spoke to Andhra Pradesh’s chief secretary and director general of police and took stock of the situation. Reddy instructed teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to provide necessary assistance to the victims.

Former Andhra Pradesh CM N Chandrababu Naidu expressed shock over the gas leak incident in Visakhapatnam and urged residents of the city to take necessary precautions. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi urged party leaders in the area to assist the affected people. “My condolences to the families of those who have perished. I pray that those hospitalised make a speedy recovery,” he said on Twitter.

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