8 dead, hundreds in hospital after gas leak at India chemical plant

Rescuers evacuate people following a gas leak at an LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam in southern India. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

A gas leak at a chemical factory in southern India has killed at least eight people and led to hundreds being taken to hospital, amid fears that the death toll could climb higher.

Styrene leaked from the Korean-owned LG Polymers plant during the early hours of Thursday morning when families in the surrounding villages were asleep, a local official in Andra Pradesh state said.

The leak was from two 5,000-tonne tanks that had been unattended due to India’s coronavirus lockdown in place since late March, according to a local police officer.

Footage on Indian television channels showed people, including women and children, lying in the streets of Visakhapatnam, an industrial port city halfway between Kolkata and Chennai on India’s east coast.

The plant operated by LG Polymers is located in the outskirts of Visakhapatnam, an industrial port city in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The city and the surrounding area are home to around five million people.

The gas “was left there because of the lockdown. It led to a chemical reaction and heat was produced inside the tanks, and the gas leaked because of that,” Rani, an assistant commissioner, told AFP.

“We received an emergency call from the local villagers around 3.30 am in the morning today. They said there was some gas in the air,” she said.

“We reached there immediately. One could feel the gas in the air and it was not possible for any of us to stay there for more than a few minutes. Prepared rescue workers started working from around 4.00 am.”

Government statistics say that at least 100,000 people living near to the Unnion Carbide plant have been victims of chronic illnesses.