At Least Eleven Dead, Thousands Evacuated in India Gas Leak

By Archana Chaudhary, Sudhi Ranjan Sen and Kanga Kong | May 7, 2020

A gas leak at an LG Chem Ltd. polymer plant in southern India has killed at least 11 people and forced the evacuation of thousands in the city of Visakhapatnam after the company tried to restart operations following the partial easing of the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

More than 20 people were in a critical condition in the city’s hospital, National Disaster Response Force Director General S. N. Pradhan told reporters Thursday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office is monitoring the relief work, while a team from the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear unit, along with environmental experts, will help manage “the crisis on the ground,” the government said in a statement.

“The unfortunate event took place past midnight when they tried to restart the polymer plant, which is pretty old,” said P. V. Ramesh, secretary to the chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh. The government will issue new safety guidelines for factories being restarted after the lockdown to avoid similar accidents, Ramesh said.

About 400 people have been hospitalized suffering breathlessness and eye irritations, M. Venu Gopal Reddy, additional district magistrate of Visakhapatnam district said by phone. Hospitals were able to provide immediate relief as they were stocked with oxygen supplies and ventilators to deal with possible coronavirus infections, according to Ramesh.

A similar accident was reported in the eastern state of Chhattigarh, where seven laborers cleaning a paper unit had to be hospitalized, according to police.

Investigation Underway

“The gas leakage is now under control, but the leaked gas can cause nausea and dizziness, so we’re doing our best to ensure the right treatment is provided swiftly, LG Chem spokesperson Choi Sang-kyu said, adding that the company has started an investigation into the cause of deaths and the scale of damage at the Andhra Pradesh plant.

“The plant was shut down due to coronavirus worries when the accident took place. A night time dutier came to learn of gas leakage from a styrene monomer storage tank. None of LG Chem’s employees there have died from this accident. A possible link between the gas leak and deaths of people is subject to further investigation.”

The company’s staff who were inspecting the machines to restart the factory rushed out and raised an alarm, said Zahid Khan, who heads operations of the disaster response force in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. People in five nearby villages became ill, he said.

A large number of animals including pet dogs, livestock, and birds have died and a team of veterinary doctors have reached the villages to assess the situation, the Indian Express reportedciting V. Vinay Chand, head of the district administration.

–With assistance from Bibhudatta Pradhan and Rajesh Kumar Singh.

About the photo: Smokes rise from an LG Polymers plant following a gas leak incident in Visakhapatnam on May 7. Photographer: -/AFP/Getty Images

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