Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday expressed grief over the death of at least six people following a gas leak at a chemical plant in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Hundreds of locals have fallen ill after the gas spread to around 20 nearby villages, with many complaining of rashes on their body and burning sensation in their eyes.

“Spoke to officials of MHA [Ministry of Home Affairs] and NDMA [National Disaster Management Authority] regarding the situation in Visakhapatnam, which is being monitored closely,” he tweeted. “I pray for everyone’s safety and well-being in Visakhapatnam.”

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Visakhapatnam: At least six dead after gas leak at chemical plant, many unconscious

Union Home Minister Amit Shah described the incident as “disturbing”. In a tweet, he said he had spoken to NDMA officials and other concerned authorities. “We are constantly monitoring the situation,” Shah added.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, expressing shock, asked all party workers in the region to provide support and assistance. “My condolences to the families of those who have perished,” he tweeted. “I pray that those hospitalised make a speedy recovery.”

President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu expressed grief. Kovind offered condolences for the families of the victims and prayed for the recovery of the wounded.

“Spoke to Union Petroleum Minister Sri Dharmendra Pradhan and Minister of State for Home Affairs, Sri G Kishan Reddy,” Naidu tweeted. “They assured that needed assistance is being given to ensure safety of the people. Union Home Secretary informed that NDRF [National Disaster Response Force] teams have been rushed to the affected areas to assist the local administration in the relief operations.”

The Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister’s Office said that YS Jagan Mohan Reddy will soon visit the hospital where the wounded are being treated. “The Chief Minister is closely monitoring the situation and has directed the district officials to take every possible step to save lives and bring the situation under control,” it added.

Andhra Pradesh Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan’s office ordered officials to take up rescue operations on a “war footing”, ANI reported. Harichandran suggested that volunteers with the Red Cross should be roped in for rescue efforts. He ordered the Visakhapatnam unit of the Red Cross to constitute medical camps.

The incident

Toxic gas leaked from the chemical plant of a company in Visakhapatnam. Fire engines, the police and ambulances have been deployed to control the situation and around 200 people were taken to the hospital. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the toll has gone up to eight.

The number of people who have fallen sick after the leak may be over 1,000, reports said. The leak reportedly occurred around 3 am at LG Polymers industry at RR Venkatapuram near Naiduthota area. Workers were gearing up to reopen the plant, after weeks of being shut amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown, when the leak occurred.

The incident triggered panic and several people were found unconscious on the streets as some faced breathing problems. Reports said that officials with the emergency services also fell unconscious during evacuations after the gas leak. The police made announcements, urging people to leave the area, however some were feared to have fallen unconscious inside their homes, Assistant Commissioner of Police Swaroopa Rani said.

Hindustan Polymers was set up in 1961 and later taken over by South Korea’s LG Chem. In 1997, it was renamed as LG Polymers India. The chemical plant produces polystyrene and expandable polystyrene – a plastic used to make a wide range of items like toys and appliances.