I n a grim reminder of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, India woke up to bone-chilling visuals of listless bodies, unconscious people lying on the sides of the road, children being carried to ambulances, and people rushing in to help each other, at India’s upcoming industrial hub Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. In a pre-dawn toxic gas leak at LG Polymers, a chemical plant in Visakhapatnam, on Thursday, more than 11 people lost their lives and hundreds were hospitalised after they complained of breathing difficulties and a burning sensation in their eyes. The leak reportedly happened between 2:30 am and 3 am, leaving hundreds of hapless occupants of Gopalapatnam village struggling to breathe as the nauseous gas spread up to three miles from the location of the plant. By morning there were people lying motionless in ditches, lanes and near their houses, while other civilians in masks carried the affected on bikes, autos to the nearest hospital. While 20 ambulances were rushed in the wee hours, state police, fire fighters and NDRF were also pressed into service.
“Over 1,000 people were affected by the gas leak and all those who fell ill after exposure to the toxic gas have been hospitalised,” said S.N. Pradhan, DG, NDRF, in conversation with NewsX, while insisting that the situation was under control. With the number of the dead increasing with each passing hour, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a special meeting with the NDMA at 11 am and also took stock of the situation from the Home Ministry. Meanwhile rescue and relief operations in villages within 5-km radius of the factory were also underway full swing. “We received a call around 3 am and immediately rushed to the spot. Additional teams from Vijaywada have been sent and they have managed to get over 240 people hospitalised, over 20 of them are on ventilator support,” said Andhra DGP Goutam Sawang. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy also visited the affected villages and announced a compensation of Rs 1 crore for the family of each victim. The state govt also said that it would contribute Rs 25,000 towards the primary care treatment of those affected by the gas leak.
“The state government is taking every step to stop the infections and we are working with concerned officials,” said Andhra Pradesh Deputy CM. The Andhra Pradesh government also ordered an investigation into the gas leak, while state industry ministry M.G. Reddy said that the company managing the plant “will have to come and explain exactly what happened”. The gas leak reportedly happened as the workers were preparing to reopen the plant. Sources say that the plant, which is spread over 200 acres, was left unattended for over 40 days because of the panIndia lockdown. They also say there were about 1,800 tonnes of styrene gas which was stored in the storage tank and the leak happened during cleaning the plant. LG Polymer, established in 1961 in Vizag, manufactures polystyrene and engineering plastic compounds.