Two firefighters of Oil India Ltd who had been missing were found dead at a wetland near the site of a massive oil well fire in Assam, officials said today. The oil well in upper Assam's Tinsukia district that has been leaking gas for 14 days caught fire on Tuesday. The fire was so intense that it could be seen from as far as 10 km away.
"Their bodies were recovered from a wetland near the site. Prima facie it looks that they jumped in the water and got drowned as there is no mark of burn injury. The exact cause will be ascertained only after a post mortem," Oil India spokesperson Tridiv Hazarika told news agency Press Trust of India.
Officials said the fire has been contained in a 50-metre radius around the site of the incident, but it is still burning as the oil well continues to feed gas.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the situation and the action taken by the state government. "The fire has now been confined to an area of 50 metres. Experts believe that they need around 25-28 days to control the situation. We have successfully evacuated people from that area. PM Modi has assured full assistance to the state," Mr Sonowal said.
The Indian Air Force is involved in firefighting operations, while the Army is helping the NDRF and the local authorities in rescue and relief work after the state government requested for help. The area has been cordoned off by paramilitary forces.
Oil India on Tuesday said the well caught fire while clearing operations were going on. The company in a statement said there were protests around the gas leak site, and all Oil India and ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation) teams have been evacuated.
Experts who had been flown in from Singapore will take around four weeks to totally cap the well, sources said.
The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has been deployed in the area since the time of the gas leak and top officials of Assam are also reviewing the situation.
The oil well at Baghjan Tinsukia, 500 km from main city Guwahati, had a blowout on May 27 and has been leaking gas since, causing damage to the region's wetlands and biodiversity.
Images shared by residents on social media show gas condensate depositing at Maguri Beel wetland, carcasses of endangered the Gangetic Dolphins and other aquatic life floating in the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, barely 3 km from the oil field.
Paddy fields, ponds and wetlands at adjoining villages have been contaminated and the threat is growing with every passing day. Several small tea growers in the area have complained about layers of gas condensate at their tea gardens.
Some 6,000 people living in a 1.5-km radius of the natural gas producing well have been evacuated and placed in relief camps. Oil India has announced financial relief of Rs 30,000 to every affected family.