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India chemical leak: more evacuations amid fears of second gas release | India

Indian officials have evacuated more people from the area around a chemical plant in the south of the country that leaked toxic gas, killing at least 11 people and sickening hundreds more.

There was confusion about whether the wider evacuation orders were sparked by a renewed leak at the LG Chem factory in Andhra Pradesh, or by the fear that rising temperatures at the plant could lead to another leak.

“The situation is tense,” N Surendra Anand, a fire officer in Visakhapatnam district, told Reuters, adding that people within a 5km (3.1 mile) radius were being moved out because of renewed emissions from the plant.

However, LG Chem, which is owned by the Korean conglomerate LG, said on Friday the decision to extend the evacuation area from 3.5km had been ordered as a precaution.

Victims being treated after the gas leak in Visakhapatnam.
Victims being treated after the gas leak in Visakhapatnam. Photograph: EPA

“There was not a second leak and LG Chem has asked the police to evacuate residents as a precautionary measure as there are concerns that tank temperatures would rise,” South Korea’s biggest petrochemical maker said in a statement. “We are taking necessary measures, including putting water into the tank.”

Srijana Gummalla, commissioner of the Visakhapatnam municipal corporation, said gas emissions had been fluctuating through the day and had largely subsided.

Police began urging people to move out of their houses and into waiting buses at around midnight, said local resident Sheikh Salim, who lives about 2.5km from the plant.

Footage on Indian television channels showed people, including women and children, slumped motionless in the streets after locals raised the alarm in the early hours.

“There was utter confusion and panic. People were unable to breathe, they were gasping for air. Those who were trying to escape collapsed on the roads – kids, women and all,” local resident Kumar Reddy, 24, told reporters.

Local police commissioner RK Meena, said that by Thursday afternoon 11 people had been confirmed dead.

According to the Times of India, the dead included an eight-year-old girl, and 5,000 people had fallen sick.

Residents complained of breathing problems, rashes and sore eyes, it added.

Authorities advised people to wear wet clothes and masks, avoid eating uncovered food and consume bananas and milk to “neutralise the effect of the gas”.

LG Chem and federal authorities in New Delhi said on Thursday that the leak at the plant, which makes polystyrene products used in manufacturing electric fan blades, cups and cutlery and containers for cosmetic products, had been contained.
Gas from styrene, a principal raw material at the plant, leaked during the early hours of Thursday, authorities said.

Smoke rising from the chemical plant in Visakhapatnam.
Smoke rising from the chemical plant in Visakhapatnam. Photograph: EPA

The factory, operated by LG Polymers, a unit of LG Chem, was in the process of reopening after a weeks-long lockdown imposed by Indian authorities to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, local officials and the company said.

Jagan Mohan Reddy, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, said in a televised address on Thursday that the leak occurred because the styrene had been stored for a long period of time.

The incident had echoes of one of the worst industrial disasters in history when gas leaked from a pesticide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal in 1984.

Around 3,500 people, mainly in shanties around the plant operated by Union Carbide, died in the days that followed and thousands more in the following years. People still suffer its after-effects now.

“I pray for everyone’s safety and well-being in Visakhapatnam,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter.

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