Millions of Keralites celebrated Onam festivities yesterday, remembering their mythological king Mahabali, during whose time prosperity and happiness reigned, but the festivities were tinged with sadness as the death toll in the gas tanker lorry mishap of Monday night climbed to four, and nearly two dozen people remained critically injured.
The four who lost their lives have been identified as Nirmala (50) , Rema (50), who was under treatment at the Pariyaram Medical College, Abdul Aziz (55)and Sreelatha 47.
The incident happened at Chala near Kannur when the tanker lorry carrying cooking gas hit a road median, leading to gas leak, which triggered a major fire in the area. Several houses and commercial buildings in the vicinity caught fire and the number of people injured in the accident was high because many were in already in bed for the night and fast asleep.
The tanker was travelling from a public sector petroleum operator in Mangalore in neighbouring Karnataka state to the liquefied petroleum gas bottling plant near Malappuram when the mishap occurred on the Kannur-Thalassery road.
Some reports quoting witnesses said the long, rocket-shaped tanker in which the gas was being transported, was thrown high in the air and blown to pieces. This, they said, resulted in the fire spreading to a large area. The blast is said to have happened 15 minutes after the tanker met with the accident and gas started leaking.
The state government has announced a financial support of Rs 1 million each to the families of those killed in the incident. The driver of the vehicle has been missing after the incident, and is thought to be absconding.
Following the mishap, authorities have removed the median on the Chala bypass road. Local people said the unscientifically constructed bypass may have played a role in causing the accident.