LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam gas leak India Andhra
Rescuers evacuate people following a gas leak incident at an LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam on May 7, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Hyderabad: Vishakhapatnam Police Commissioner RK Meena requested people to not panic and said the order to evacuate the 2km radius surrounding the recent gas leakage area late Thursday is just a precautionary measure.

"People are requested to evacuate the area only within 2km radius of the spot as precautionary measure. People beyond the 2km radius don't need to evacuate or come out on road. No need to panic," RK Meena, Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh) Police Commissioner.

The city police chief also requested people to not believe in the fake news regarding the gas leakage.

On Thursday, styrene gas had leaked in the gas plant of LG Polymers in RR Venkatapuram village in Visakhapatnam district on Thursday morning which claimed 11 lives.

Gas fumes were reported as leaking again late on Thursday with around 50 fire staffers, with the NDRF's support, carrying out an operation.

A further 10 fire tenders, including two with foam capabilities, are present at the spot. Ambulances are ready for any emergency, said Sandeep Anand, Visakhapatnam District Fire Officer, according to another tweet by ANI.

At least 11 people, including two children, died and about 800 people were affected after the dangerous chemical gas leaked from a plant of a South Korean company LG Polymers in the port city of Visakhapatnam of Andhra Pradesh in the early hours of Thursday.

About 250 people were undergoing treatment in various hospitals while 70 people in serious condition were being treated at King George Hospital. Some of them were on ventilators.

According to the police and local administration officials the styrene gas leaked from one of the two massive tanks of the plant at around 2.30am at Venkatapuram village in Goapalapatnam, an industrial suburb of Visakhapatnam.

Styrene, a neuro toxin, was used in the plant for the manufacture of polystyrene plastics, one of the products of LG Polymers.

What is styrene?
Styrene, which leaked from the LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam, is highly flammable and releases a poisonous gas when burnt. The plant uses raw material styrene to make its products, including electric fan blades, cups and cutlery.
If a person inhales styrene, it can affect the nervous system leaving the person feeling tired with changes in colour vision, concentration and balance.
Acute exposure to styrene in humans results in respiratory problems.

The gas was kept in two tanks of 5,000 metric tonne capacity. While the plant from which gas leaked had 2,000 metric tonnes of chemical, the other tank had 3,000 MT of chemical.

Visakhapatnam, a hub of chemical, fertilizer and petrochemicals plants, woke up to horrific scenes as white gas enveloped the area and a strong smell hit the populace.

Visakhapatnam police have booked an FIR against the management of LG Polymer as allegations of negligence in maintenance of the plant have emerged. Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar Meena said a case of criminal negligence was booked against the company.

King George Hospital  chemical gas leakage at LG Polymers industry India visakhapatna Andhram
Affected children being treated at King George Hospital after a major chemical gas leakage at LG Polymers industry at RR Venkatapuram village in Visakhapatnam on Thursday. Image Credit: ANI

In a statement, LG Chem said the gas leak situation was now under control. “We are exploring all ways to provide speedy treatment for those who suffer from inhaling the leaked gas,” the statement said.

The gas leak also hit cattle in the area. As many as 250 cows, bulls and buffaloes were found dead.

Breathless and suffocated

It was a scene right out of a horror film as hundreds of panic stricken people, including women and children, ran out of their homes complaining of suffocation, giddiness and nausea, and fell by the side of the road not knowing what hit them in their sleep.

Videos on social media showed people suffering from breathlessness and suffocation falling on the ground while running. Other local people and policemen were also seen running with unconscious victims on their shoulders. Children were the worst affected.

Gautam Sawang, the state director general of police, told the media that police were alerted by a local resident about the gas leak at around 3.30am. Within 10 minutes a patrol unit arrived at the scene to assess the situation.

King George Hospital Andhra India gas leak visakhapatnam
An affected woman being taken for treatment at King George Hospital after a major chemical gas leakage at LG Polymers industry in RR Venkatapuram village, Visakhapatnam on Thursday. Image Credit: ANI

“Soon an alert was sounded and emergency police and other teams were rushed to save the people. Police vehicles with public address systems went around asking the people to vacate the area immediately. More than two dozen ambulances were pressed into service to shift the affected people to hospitals”, he said.

While three people died on the spot, others succumbed in hospitals.

It was heartrending scene as men ran carrying their unconscious children in their hands to take them to safety or put them in an ambulance or any other vehicle available.

As day broke, dozens of women and children were found fallen on the roadside and pavements. The search teams later found three bodies in a roadside canal. Apparently these people fell while running to safety in the darkness.

“The core affected area was spread over 1.5km while the gas smell had spread over an area of 5km,” city police commissioner Rajeev Kumar Meena said.

CM announces ex gratia payment

As the administration mobilised the teams of National and State Disaster Relief Forces and experts from the Naval Eastern Command for help, Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy rushed to Visakhapatnam to assess the situation. He also visited the hospitals and met the affected people. After talking to the doctors at the King George Hospital, Reddy announced an ex gratia payment of Rs 10 million (Dh 485,000) to the family of each victim. Talking to the media the Chief Minister said, “Rs 1 million will be paid to those who are on ventilators, and Rs 100,000 to those who were given first aid in hospitals”.

In addition the government will also pay Rs 10,000 financial assistance to every family living in villages around the ill-fated plant.

“I will not be able to bring back your loved ones who died in the tragic accident today. But I promise that the state government is with you in this grief and we will fully support you,” he said.

Reddy hoped that situation would return to normalcy completely in 24 hours. Officials told the chief minister that emissions were still prevalent and they to trying to bring it to zero.

Probe ordered

“Something went wrong somewhere and it is a matter of investigation,” Gautam Sawang, the DGP said when asked about the cause of the gas leak.

But another senior local police official was of the view that the plant was unattended as it was closed for the last 40 days due to coronavirus linked lockdown. “Apparently the temperature in one of the tanks increased suddenly leading to the gas leakage”, he felt.

The plant was getting ready for reopening few hours later following the relaxation in lockdown.

During the day there was another round of panic when some vapour was released from the plant triggering rumours of one more leak. However, police clarified that some vapour was let out by the maintenance team repairing the tank.

“Fortunately it is not a lethal kind of a gas. Only high doses of intake may lead to fatalities,” the DGP said. The rescue and relief teams sprayed neutralising agents and water in the area to disintegrate the remnants of the gas, he added. “One of the antidotes is water. Affected people should drink a lot of water”, he said.

Eyewitness account

An eyewitness of the early morning mayhem said he thought everybody was going to die.

“When I woke up I was frightened to see smoke all around our village. Nobody had any idea what was happening in the darkness of the night. People were falling on the ground even as they were trying to run or walk. I thought we all would die. Even children and elderly women of my own family collapsed. Others managed to reach a safe point 3km from the plant. We had to wait for vehicles to take people to hospital. There was no help from the company. It was horrific,” said Satyanarayana Murthy, one of the eyewitnesses of the incident.

Screening for all

Meanwhile, the state health department has decided to screen all the 8,000 residents who live in the surrounding villages to ensure that no harm was caused to them by the gas.

Bhopal remembered

The incident brought back ghastly memories of India’s worst industrial accident, the gas leak from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal which claimed more than 3,000 lives in December 1984.

Environmentalists and industrial safety experts have been sounding warnings of the possibility of a similar disaster in Visakhapatnam which has a high density of hazardous industrial units in and around the city.