“My skin was burning, eyes were tearing up. We could not breathe...” This was how the people of RR Venkatapuram in Visakhapatnam woke up in the middle of the night. Feeling dizzy and unable to breathe, they scrambled to leave the neighbourhood, even as the children and elderly people in their families slowly began to fall unconscious around them.
Visuals from the outskirts of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh showed scores of people lying unconscious on the streets after inhaling the gas from a leakage, which is believed to have been caused by an accident in a styrene gas chamber at the LG Polymer chemical unit on the outskirts of Vizag city. The factory is run by LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd.
Recounting the incident, Naveen, a resident of Venkatapuram, said:
“Around 2 am, we were woken up by what people are now saying was styrene gas. Since it is summer, we had left the windows open. Our skin started to burn and eyes began to water. We couldn’t breathe. We tried to leave the house but the gas was everywhere, like the winter fog. We could not see anything clearly, could not understand what was happening. People started falling down while walking on the streets. Children and elderly people were just falling unconscious.”
Visuals from the neighbourhood show children and adults lying unconscious on the ground, people carrying unconscious children and scrambling to find help, adults walking around crying and looking disoriented. Those in the vicinity of the leak, who are conscious, are complaining of a burning sensation in the eyes, and nausea. Some people were also vomiting after being exposed to the leak.
The leak, which is believed to have spread to nearly a 4 km radius around the chemical plant, has led to at least 8 deaths so far, including two children. A doctor in King George Hospital said that some people were critical, including 15 children. According to the state DGP, all the deaths are however, not because of inhaling the gas. As people scrambled to run away in the opposite direction of the leak, some of them injured themselves in accidents. Two of the 8 deaths related to the leakage were caused by such accidents. In one case, the victim died after falling into a well while trying to escape.
Scores of people lying unconscious on the street were moved to hospitals. At least 82 people have been taken to King George Hospital, while others were taken to private hospitals, a revenue department official said.
The Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation has advised people living around the industry to move to safer locations and to use a wet cloth and mask to cover their nose and mouth as a safety precaution.
Police and NDRF personnel have been breaking into houses of people who have fallen unconscious indoors to rescue them. People living within a 3-km radius are being evacuated in APSRTC buses and any government vehicles available, and being taken to Naiduthota, an official from the office of the Visakhapatnam District Collector said.
“Once the gas leak is controlled, they can go back to their homes. It is unclear how long this will take,” he added.
Director General of Police Gautam Sawang claimed that the gas itself is not lethal or poisonous. He said that people who have been taken to the hospital will be given treatment, and most of them would be discharged.
However, the gas could cause severe harm when inhaled in large quantities, posing threat to those who were residing closest to the plant.
The factory was run by South Korean electronics giant LG. The company was originally Hindusthan Polymers, which was launched in 1961. It was taken over by LG in 1997 and renamed to LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd.
(This story was first published on The News Minute and has been republished in an arrangement.)