|The LG Polymers plant near Visakhapatnam. © Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation / Srijana Gummalla|
There have been conflicting reports as to the number of victims that perished in the gas leak which emitted from the LG Polymers plant near Visakhapatnam in the eastern state of Andhra Pradesh early on Thursday morning. Reuters reported that the accident claimed the lives of at least nine people, citing police, while some local outlets reported that about 300 were hospitalized and 5,000 were sickened. Among the casualties are two elderly residents and a seven-year-old girl.
The gas, believed to be Styrene, is highly toxic when inhaled in high enough concentrations.
“People have passed out after inhaling the gas. Even our [police personnel's] eyes are still burning and we feel nauseous,” Gopalapatnam Sub-Inspector Venkat Rao told the media.
The aftermath of the leak was captured in photos and videos that have circulated on social media, some of them highly graphic, showing a number of victims laying on the ground apparently struggling to breathe. It is unclear whether they are merely unconscious or whether they succumbed to the gas.
Andhra Pradesh: Chemical gas leakage reported at LG Polymers industry in— ANI (@ANI) May 7, 2020
RR Venkatapuram village, Visakhapatnam. People being taken to hospital after they complained of burning sensation in eyes&breathing difficulties. Police, fire tenders, ambulances reach spot.Details awaited. pic.twitter.com/uCXGsHBmn2
Other harrowing images showed what appeared to be lifeless bodies in a nearby canal, as well as dead livestock with a white foamy substance around their mouths strewn about the area, while some local reports published images of children affected in the massive leak.Gas leakage at a Pharma company in Visakhapatnam, causing panic among people. Administration start evaluation on surrounding villages. Casualty feared. #AndhraPradesh #chemicalleal pic.twitter.com/vi37sGD8bk— Aashish (@Ashi_IndiaToday) May 7, 2020
Oh no! Images from Vizag are so scary. Styrene gas leak from LG polymers plant. Hundreds taken ill.— Palki Sharma (@palkisu) May 7, 2020
Some 1,000 people have been admitted to nearby hospitals, AFP reported, citing sources, while local media said that between 1,500 and 2,000 beds had been prepared in total. A municipal official also took to Twitter on Thursday morning saying the leak occurred around 2:30am, and that “hundreds” had either fallen unconscious or experienced trouble breathing after inhaling the toxic chemical. Some victims also developed headaches, bouts of vomiting and a burning sensation in their eyes.
The Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) issued a warning for residents, stating “There is gas leakage identified at LG Polymers ... Requesting citizens around these locations not to come out of houses for the sake of safety precautions.” The GVMC also advised villagers to use a “wet mask” or cloth to avoid inhaling the gas.Primary report is PVC gas (or Styrene) leaked from LG Polymers, Vepagunta near Gopalapatnam in Visakhapatnam at around 2:30 AM today— Srijana Gummalla (@GummallaSrijana) May 7, 2020
Because of the leakage of the said compound gas hundreds of people have inhaled it and either fell unconscious or having breathing issues. pic.twitter.com/WeCdrbddV1
PLEASE USE WET MASK OR COVER YOUR MOUTH AND NOSE WET CLOTH TO AVOID EFFECT OF GAS INHALATION— Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) (@GVMC_OFFICIAL) May 7, 2020
Nearly eight hours after the leak was first reported, India’s National Disaster Response Force said the gas had been “neutralized,” adding that the toxic vapors could be detected up to 1.5km away from the plant and that the smell wafted for some 2.5km. The agency has launched an investigation.
According to police, the gas escaped from two enormous 5,000-ton tanks that had been left at the plant unattended amid the country’s Covid-19 lockdown, imposed in late March.
The exact cause of the leak at the facility – owned by South Korean battery manufacturer LG Chemical Ltd – has yet to be determined, but rescue teams have been deployed to the area to assist residents. LG Chemical has so far offered no comment on the incident.