At least 8 dead, nearly 1,000 sick after chemical gas leak at India plant

A chemical gas leaked from an industrial plant in southern India early Thursday, leaving people struggling to breathe and collapsing in the streets as they tried to flee. At least eight people were killed and nearly 1,000 suffered breathing difficulties and other reactions.

Administrator Vinay Chand said several people fainted on the road and were rushed to a hospital in Vishakhapatnam, a city in Andhra Pradesh state. The dead included an 8-year-old girl.

Police Commissioner R.K. Meena said one person died as he fell into a village well while running away from the plant and another person died after he jumped from the second story of his house to escape. The others died in a hospital.

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He also said nearly 100 people hospitalized were in stable condition with no threat to their lives. The gas leak at the plant has been stopped and the air was clear, he added.

The synthetic chemical styrene leaked from the LG Polymers plant, which workers were preparing to restart after it was closed during the coronavirus lockdown, Chand said. The gas leaked after a fire broke out and it has since been extinguished, he said.

Nearly 1,000 people in an area of 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) complained of breathing difficulties and burning sensation in their eyes, he said.

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Authorities deployed 25 ambulances to shift the sick to hospitals and others away from the accident site.

Meena said nearly 3,000 people were evacuated from a village near the plant.

Images from television showed people lying in the streets after they collapsed while trying to flee.

An eyewitness said there was a total panic as a mist-like gas enveloped the area. “People felt breathless in their homes and tried to run away. Darkness added to the confusion,” he told a television channel. His name wan’t given by the channel.

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Srijana Gummala, the local municipal commissioner, said water was sprayed in the area to minimize the impact of the gas. “Through public address system, the people are being asked to use wet masks,” he said.

LG Chem, the South Korea-based owner of LG Polymers, said in a statement that the leak has been brought under control and it is investigating how the leak occurred.

“We are currently assessing the extent of the damage on residents in the town and are taking all necessary measures to protect residents and employees in collaboration with related organizations,” LG Chem said.

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A company official in Seoul said separately the affected factory was suspended because of lockdown measures caused by coronavirus outbreak at the time of the accident.

India imposed a strict, nationwide lockdown on March 25 to control the spread of coronavirus. Measures were eased on Monday, allowing neighborhood shops and manufacturing units to reopen to resume economic activity.

India has so far reported nearly 50,000 virus cases with 14,183 recovered and 1,694 deaths.

—With files from Reuters

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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