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Vizag gas leak: 'Fear hangs over the city'

By PRASANNA D ZORE
May 09, 2020 11:15 IST
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'All the animals -- buffaloes and dogs -- in the proximity of the factory are dead.'
'he situation is so serious that almost one lakh people from nearby localities have moved to safer places fearing the after-effects of the gas leak.'
'There is lot of panic.'

IMAGE: Firefighters outside the LG Polymers factory after a major chemical gas leak, May 7, 2020. Photograph: PTI Photo

While Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jaganmohan Reddy has constituted a special committee to find the lapses in LG Polymers's safety protocols, the causes of leakage of styrene vapour gas from the plant in Vishakhapatnam on Thursday, May 7, the Telugu Desam Party, the principal Opposition party in the state, has demanded that the factory be moved to a special economic zone outside the city limits.

TDP MLA Gana Venkata Reddy Naidu Pethakamsetti tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com about the situation a day after the gas leak killed 12 people, put 1,000 people in hospital, and caused panic even 20 kilometres away from where the factory is located.

What is the situation in Vishakhapatnam right now?

When I spoke to the company management they told me the situation was under control in the morning by six o'clock today (May 8; styrene gas leaked out from LG Polymers on the intervening night of May 6 and 7).

While the (styrene gas) leak was already controlled (by Thursday morning), the only thing is that the tanker (in which styrene gas was stored) had produced some heat.

At 1 o'clock (on the intervening night of May 7 and 8) the temperature inside the tank had reached 156 (degree Celsius).

There was a 2 to 3 per cent chance of an explosion and so they (the LG Polymers management) immediately took action.

By early morning the temperature had cooled down to 115 (degree Celsius; considered safe).

What was the situation soon after the gas leak on Thursday?

Styrene gas leaked out from one of the tankers and spread to nearby villages.

Just adjacent to the wall (the complex compound) there is Venkataprabhu village, which was severely affected.

Almost 1,000 people have been hospitalised and 12 people have died.

All the animals -- buffaloes and dogs -- in the proximity of the factory are dead.

More than 10,000 people from three nearby villages have been shifted (to a safer place by the administration).

But the situation is so serious that almost one lakh people from nearby localities have moved to safer places on their own fearing the after-effects of the gas leak.

There is lot of panic and people have voluntarily moved to other places, but the state and district administration did not stop them leaving their homes.

This (LG Polymer factory) is in the heart of the city and just about six kilometres from Vishakhapatnam airport. That (that the factory is within the geographical boundaries of the city) is the problem.

Soon after the NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) came, the (state) government appointed a committee, but the management is saying something and the committee members are saying something else.

As an elected representative from the area, I am not getting credible information about what the real situation inside the company and surrounding areas is like.

Till yesterday, the state administration was transparent with the information sought, but since this (May 8) morning they are being over cautious now that the Centre has intervened and taken charge.

What the state administration is saying is that they will give more information only after another day of observation.

Only then they will be able to announce a clear picture of the situation.

But they have told everybody, including myself, that there is no leakage happening right now, no blast-like situation inside the factory and everything is under control (The MLA spoke with Rediff.com around 4.35 pm on Friday).

What kind of information were you not able to get from state government officials or the NDRF team?

(Information) regarding the technical issues.

They are reluctant to tell us if the air in the vicinity is clean and whether people can come back to their homes.

We need information that is in public interest and which my constituents are asking me.

The people want to know how the gas leaked, why the company couldn't prevent it, what measures were adopted by the company before they started the factory (it was shut for 40 days on account of the national lockdown), and if they could come back to their homes.

How much time will the authorities take to give permission to the residents to come back to their homes. This is not too huge a problem that the state government cannot address. I don't know why the state government is not addressing this issue.

The state government, district collector, is responsible for addressing the concerns of the people and revealing facts. That is the problem here.

No one is taking any responsibility to quell the rumours that have been floating in the town. This night (the intervening night of May 7 and 8) there were rumours there the entire city will get affected because of the gas leak and lot of people moved out of their houses during the night.

They travelled more than 25 kilometres towards the beach in the middle of the night on the national highway.

Someone (from the state administration) must take the initiative to quell such rumours and assure the people of the town that their lives are safe here.

People are panicking and asking me if they should move far away from the city.

An atmosphere of fear hangs over the city like the deadly gas. I request the state administration to address these concerns quickly.

Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy came yesterday, announced a compensation of Rs 1 crore to the families of the deceased and left the city. He appointed a committee headed by the chief secretary and some ministers.

Many ministers are coming here and addressing the press, but nobody is answering what the people want to hear.

People expect to know when it will become safe to come back home. That is the people's topmost priority, but nobody's answering it.

What is the situation right now in Vishakhapatnam?

You have to ask the company management and state government.

I visited the place this morning (May 8). There is no pollution and everything is under control.

I don't know why the state government is not yet declaring it to be safe. They must assure people that this is a pollution-free area, you can live here, but that kind of information or that kind of messaging is not coming forth.

Even people who stay 20 to 25 kilometres from the LG Polymers factory call me to ask if it is safe to stay where they are or will it be sae to travel hundred kilometres more. That is the situation in the city.

They have to tell the people that only three villages in the near vicinity are affected and other villagers can go back home.

What is the TDP's main demand? Did you speak with the chief minister or the chief secretary about it?

I spoke with the chief minister yesterday during the review meeting. Our main demand is that the industry (LG Polymers) is within the city (limits) amid residential area.

It is one and the only industry in this area within the city limits. It is closer to the Simhachalam railway station, a famous Varavara Laxmi temple, a famous temple revered by the people of Odisha and Andhra people and near the airport.

This factory is located within a densely populated area and this being a hazardous industry, as this dangerous gas leak has shown, is polluting the area and affecting the health of the people.

The people in this area have been raising this issue since many years.

Our main demand to the chief minister is to shift this industry to a special economic zone that is far away from residential areas. That is also the main demand of the people of Vishakhapatnam city.

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PRASANNA D ZORE / Rediff.com
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