As the Visakhapatnam gas leak death toll reached 11 with at least 25 people admitted to hospitals in critical condition, the Centre has decided to dispatch a special team of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) from Pune.
The Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) emergency team is specialised in handing chemical disasters and will be tasked with first plugging the breach in the LG Polymers plant from where the gas is still leaking. A team of chemical and medical experts are also being flown in to the port city, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) member Kamal Kishore said.
The decision was taken during a meeting of the NDMA held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at 11 am where he took stock of the situation and directed the government machinery to rush all possible help to Visakhapatnam to manage the leakage and assist rescue and relief operations. Follow Vizag gas leak LIVE updates
“PM chaired the meeting of NDMA and took stock of the situation on the ground as well as the response required across the broad. It was decided that expertise on medical, chemical and rescue side is required. After that the National Crisis Management Committee met under Cabinet Secretary and deliberated on designing specific steps to be taken to manage the emergency,” Kishore said.
Kishore added that around 1,000 people have been exposed to the gas and they have been evacuated and receiving necessary medical attention.
On dispatch of CBRN team, NDRF DG SN Pradhan said, “The CBRN team has expertise in dealing with such situations and it will be flying from Pune soon. The leakage situation has been controlled and the silo that was there is leaking very little now. But we will be there till it is completely stopped.”
He said the cause of the leakage was still being investigated but situation was under control as people in a radius of about 3 km from the factory had been evacuated and the impact of the gas was wearing off. “Styrine gas is heavier than air and gets to ground with water. So water is being sprayed in affected areas. The gas intensity too has come down as studies suggest it lasts for 6-7 hours in the environment. As the gas leakage started at 2.30 am, it has been considerable time. There is nothing to panic,” Pradhan said.
AIIMS Direcotr Randeep Guleria said there was no antidote to the gas and the treatment available was largely supportive. “It’s an alkaline benzene compound. It has no antidote. It can cause harm through inhalation leading to irritation of eyes, throat and breathing difficulty. In case of high inhalation, it can cause CNS depression leading to headache, dizziness and even coma. In certain cases it can be fatal,” he said.
He added that unlike the Bhopal tragedy gas, the styrene gas did not have long term impact. “Chances of long term effect are not there. This compound gets metabolised quickly and goes out of the system soon,” Guleria said.
He said for temporary relief, the first step was to move people away from affected areas and then give those facing breathing difficulty oxygen therapy. “Clothes are to be removed, eyes and skin should be washed, breathing should be monitored. Some may be required to put on ventilator. Most may just require oxygen therapy. Nebulisers can be used. In case of acute lung injury steroids can be given. Currently, most people are stable and will hopefully make a good recovery,” Guleria said.
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Talking about the incident, Pradhan said that gas began leaking at around 2.30 am and NDRF was informed about it at 5.45 am. “Our local team reached there in half an hour. First, NDRF tried to neutralise the situation in the factory and then evacuation of villagers from Venkatapuram was done. Door to door search was done by the NDRF. They were suited up with protective gear and oxygen cylinders. In the village, some people were found unconscious or semi conscious. Some could not move. More than 500 people were evacuated. Some people are critical, most are stable after first aide,” Pradhan said.