VISAKHAPATNAM, INDIA (AFP) – At least seven people were killed and hundreds hospitalised after a pre-dawn gas leak at a chemical plant in eastern India yesterday that left unconscious victims lying in the streets, authorities said.
The gas escaped out of tanks at a complex owned by South Korea’s LG Chem that had suspended operations because of India’s coronavirus lockdown.
Footage on Indian television channels showed people, including women and children, slumped motionless in the streets of Visakhapatnam, an industrial port city in Andhra Pradesh state.
District Hospitals Coordinator B K Naik said that seven people had been confirmed killed and 1,000 had initially been hospitalised.
“This is a calamity,” Naik told AFP.
However throughout the day hundreds of people were released and Naik said on yesterday afternoon about 600 remained in hospital, none of whom were in a critical condition.
Pictures taken by AFP at the King George Hospital in the city early in the day had shown two or three patients on each bed, many of them children, and many unconscious.
Some of the patients were lying on the beds in the sparse hospital wearing just shorts and without tops or shoes.
“I pray for everyone’s safety and well-being in Visakhapatnam,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter.
The plant, operated by LG Polymers, a subsidiary of LG Chem, is on the outskirts of Visakhapatnam.
The city and the surrounding area are home to around five million people.
LG Chem released a statement in South Korea late yesterday morning indicating gas had stopped leaking.
“The gas leak situation is now under control and we are exploring all ways to provide speedy treatment for those who suffer from inhaling the leaked gas,” the statement said.
The plant had been left idle because of the coronavirus lockdown, according to an assistant police commissioner in Visakhapatnam Swaroop Rani.
“(The gas) was left there because of the lockdown. It led to a chemical reaction and heat was produced inside the tanks, and the gas leaked because of that,” Rani told AFP.
She said local villagers raised the alarm about 3.30am, saying there was gas in the air, and police who rushed to the scene had to quickly retreat for fear of being poisoned.
“One could feel the gas in the air and it was not possible for any of us to stay there for more than a few minutes,” she said.