Gas Leak at LG Chem Plant in India Kills at Least 7, Forcing Evacuation of Thousands

An overnight gas leak at an LG Chem Ltd. polymer plant in southern India has killed at least seven people and forced the evacuation of thousands in the city of Visakhapatnam after the company tried to restart operations following the partial easing of the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

“The unfortunate event took place past midnight when they tried to restart the polymer plant which is pretty old,” said P. V. Ramesh, secretary to the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, the southern state where the accident took place. The government will issue new safety guidelines for factories being restarted after the lockdown to avoid more such accidents, Ramesh said.

Teams from India’s National Disaster Response Force helped in the evacuations early Thursday morning, Director General S. N. Pradhan said. Although the teams were still doing a door-to-door search, the “worst seems to be over,” said Pradhan.

About 400 people have been hospitalized and three are on ventilators, M.Venu Gopal Reddy, additional district magistrate of Visakhapatnam district said over phone. The accident took place at 3:30 a.m. and soon after people complained of eye irritations and breathlessness, he said. Hospitals were able to provide relief as they were stocked with oxygen supplies and ventilators to deal with possible coronavirus infections, according to Ramesh.

Investigation Underway

“The gas leakage is now under control, but the leaked gas can cause nausea and dizziness, so we’re doing our best to ensure the right treatment is provided swiftly, LG Chem spokesperson Choi Sang-kyu said, adding that the company has started an investigation into the cause of deaths and the scale of damage. [Editor’s note: LG Chem is headquartered in Seoul, South Korea.]

“The plant was shut down due to coronavirus worries when the accident took place. A night time dutier came to learn of gas leakage from a styrene monomer storage tank. None of LG Chem’s employees there have died from this accident. A possible link between the gas leak and deaths of people is subject to further investigation.”

The company’s staff who were inspecting the machines to restart the factory rushed out and raised an alarm, said Zahid Khan, who heads operations of the disaster response force in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. People in five villages in the vicinity became ill, he said.

A large number of animals including pet dogs, livestock, and birds have died and a team of veterinary doctors has reached the villages to assess the situation, the Indian Express reported citing V. Vinay Chand, head of the district administration.

–With assistance from Bibhudatta Pradhan and Rajesh Kumar Singh.