Twenty-four coronavirus patients died in Maharashtra on Wednesday after oxygen supply was affected due to a leakage in the main storage tank of a hospital in Nashik city, reported The Indian Express.

The incident took place at Zakir Hussain Hospital and led to oxygen supply being stopped for around 30 minutes. The hospital was run by the Nashik Municipal Corporation to treat Covid-19 patients, according to PTI.

A senior civic official said that of the 150 patients admitted to the hospital, 23 were on ventilator support at the time of the incident, while the rest were on oxygen support. The incident came at a time when Maharashtra, which is the worst-hit state due to the coronavirus pandemic, is struggling with oxygen shortages to treat patients.

Nashik Mayor Satish Kulkarni confirmed the toll and told ANI: “There was no negligence by the corporation. A high-level committee has been set up to probe the incident.”

After the supply was disrupted, authorities brought in dura cylinders from adjoining areas, where the consumption of oxygen was less, to treat the patients, District Collector Suraj Mandhare told PTI. “Oxygen will be supplied to the patients from these cylinders,” he said.

Officials told The Indian Express that a cork in the oxygen tank had malfunctioned, leading to a reduction in pressure in the oxygen pipeline that goes straight into the Covid wards. Videos shared on social media showed the area outside the hospital covered in white fumes.

Technicians and fire brigade were immediately called to repair the tank. “By that time, a lot of oxygen was wasted,” an official told the newspaper. “The hospital tried to divert cylinders towards patients but ICU patients on high flow oxygen could not be saved.”

Maharashtra government orders inquiry

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray ordered a high-level inquiry into the incident and also announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the kin of the deceased. “Those responsible for this accident will not be spared,” he said, according to The Indian Express.

Health Minister Rajesh Tope said the incident was “more of a technical issue”, reported PTI. “The liquid oxygen which was filled in the tank has the temperature of around [minus] 180 degree Celsius,” he said. “There is extreme pressure on the walls of the tank which supplies the oxygen to patients on ventilators.”

Tope said a probe will ascertain whether the leakage was caused due to negligence or due to any other reason. “I’ll be going to Nashik soon,” he added, according to ANI. “Nashik Guardian Minister Chhagan Bhujbal has already gone there.”

What happened

Unidentified officials told PTI that the oxygen leakage was noticed around 12.30 pm on Tuesday, following which workers alerted the hospital authorities. Hospital officials, in turn, contacted Municipal Commissioner Kailash Jadhav, they said.

Divisional Revenue Commissioner Radhakrishna Game said the tank that leaked weighed 13 kilolitre. “Around 10 am, a socket of the oxygen storage tank broke and the leakage started,” he told PTI. “When the hospital staff came to know about it, they deployed jumbo cylinders to supply oxygen to the patients and started shifting some of the patients.”

Hours later, the leakage was stopped, the tank repaired and the oxygen supply was being normalised, Gamme said, according to PTI.

District collector Mandhare said that a private company is tasked with the maintenance of the oxygen storage tank located on the premises of the hospital.

Politicians express grief

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the accident a “gut-wrenching tragedy”, and said he was anguished by the loss of lives. “Condolences to the bereaved families in this sad hour,” he wrote on Twitter.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah too condoled the loss of lives. “Distressed to hear the news of the accident,” he said. “I express my deepest condolences to the families who have lost their loved ones in this incident.”

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said he is “deeply pained” by the incident. “Devastating news from Nashik where precious lives have been lost due to leakage in oxygen supply at a hospital,” he wrote on Twitter. “In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families.”

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the news of patients’ death was extremely tragic as he appealed to the Maharashtra government to provide all possible assistance to tide over the crisis.

Maharashtra minister Aaditya Thackeray called the incident unfortunate and promised a inquiry into the matter.

Food and Drug Administration Minister Rajendra Shingane said those who are responsible for the deaths will not be spared.