At least 11 people have been killed in India in a gas leak at a South Korean-owned factory making polystyrene products that made hundreds of people sick and led to the evacuation of villagers living nearby, officials say.
The accident occurred some 14km inland from the east coast city of Visakhapatnam, in Andhra Pradesh state, at a plant operated by LG Polymers, a unit of South Korea’s biggest petrochemical maker, LG Chem Ltd.
Srijana Gummalla, commissioner of the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, said gas from styrene, a principal raw materials at the plant, leaked during the early hours of the morning, when families in the surrounding villages were asleep.
Yashwanth Saikumar Ambati, 23, who lives about 300 metres away from the plant, said he woke up around 4.30am on Thursday because of a strong smell.
“I went back to sleep and I woke up around 6 because the smell got stronger. My eyes were itchy, and I was feeling drowsy, light-headed and slightly breathless,” he told Reuters, adding that neighbours also complained of eye irritation and stomach aches.
In a statement issued from Seoul, 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.
Video from Reuters partner ANI shot later on Thursday showed emergency workers rushing to help victims who appeared to be listless and disoriented.
A number of victims lay unconscious on the streetside, as volunteers fanned them and others carried them to ambulances.
A spokesman for LG Chem in Seoul said the leak was discovered by a night shift maintenance worker and has been brought under control.
According to both the company spokesman and Gummalla, the plant was being reopened after India relaxed a nationwide lockdown that had been imposed on March 25 to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
“I pray for everyone’s safety and well-being in Visakhapatnam,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet.
S.N. Pradhan, director general of the National Disaster Response Force, said that at least 11 had died after around 1000 people living near the plant were exposed to the gas.
At least one child was among the dead, a policeman at the site told ANI, whose video showed at least two other children being lifted into an ambulance.
Between 300-400 people were hospitalised, Swarupa Rani, an Assistant Commissioner of Police in Visakhapatnam told Reuters. Another 1500 people had been evacuated, mostly from a neighbouring village.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy said in a televised address that the gas leak occurred because raw material was stored for a long period of time.
The state government will give 10 million rupees ($A207,000) compensation to the families to those who died, and it will also form a panel to investigate the cause of the accident, said P.V. Ramesh, a senior aide to the chief minister.
South Korea’s top petrochemical maker by capacity, LG Chem acquired the plant in 1997 and established LG Polymers India Private Limited (LGPI), according to a company website.
The plant makes polystyrene products which are used in manufacturing electric fan blades, cups and cutlery and containers for cosmetic products.
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