A chemical gas leak in the port city of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh is under control, officials said just before noon today.
The leak killed at least 11 people and more than 800 were hospitalized. Hundreds more were evacuated from nearby areas.
South Korean battery maker LG Chemical Ltd, the owner of the facility, located around 14 kilometers away from Visakhapatnam city, said, "We are looking into the exact damages, cause of the death and details of the incident."
The commissioner of the Visakhapatnam city corporation said styrene leaked from the plant during the early hours of the morning, when families in the surrounding villages were asleep. Srijana Gummalla, Commissioner, Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, told news agency Reuters that the plant had been reopened in the past few days after the nationwide lockdown was relaxed.
Swarupa Rani, an Assistant Commissioner of Police in Visakhapatnam, told news agency AFP that the gas leaked from huge tanks that had been unattended due to India's coronavirus lockdown in place since late March. "(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."
LG Chem confirmed the plant was not operating because of the lockdown, but said there were maintenance staff at the facility. "While it's true that the factory wasn't operating as it was under lockdown, there were maintenance workers inside," a company spokesman told AFP in Seoul. "A worker on night shift discovered the leak and reported it."
1,500 people had been evacuated within a 3-kilometer (nearly 2-mile) radius of the plant, the municipal corporation said in a tweet.
ACP Rani said she got a call at around 4 am from a panicking police sub-inspector near the facility. Upon arrival, she saw that people had collapsed unconscious in the village adjoining the 60-acre site of the plant."I personally helped more than 15 people get to an ambulance who had tried to run away from the village but dropped down a few metres away," she said. Videos showed emergency workers in the area rushing to help victims, some of whom appeared to be listless and disoriented. A number of victims lay unconscious streetside.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that he had spoken to officials from the Home Ministry and the National Disaster Management Authority, who were monitoring the crisis. The LG Polymers plant makes polystyrene products, according to a company website, which are used in manufacturing electric fan blades, cups and cutlery and containers for cosmetic products such as make up.The raw material, styrene, is highly flammable and releases a poisonous gas when burnt.In a statement, LG Chem said that the gas emitted in the leak can cause nausea and dizziness when inhaled, adding that it was seeking to ensure casualties received treatment quickly.