A gas leak at a chemical plant in south-eastern India killed at least six people on Thursday and led to the hospitalization of a thousand others, according to a still provisional official report which the authorities fear to see. to become heavier.
The leak occurred in the middle of the night in a factory operated by LG Polymers, an Indian subsidiary of the South Korean company LG Chemicals, and located on the edge of the industrial and port city of Visakhapatnam, in the State of Andhra Pradesh.
Images taken on the spot showed inanimate bodies, of men or animals, lying on the street or on a curb. In the morning, smoke rose from the factory.
By late Indian time, the situation was "under control," the factory's South Korean parent company said in a statement, saying it was investigating "to find out the extent of the damage and the exact cause of the leak and deaths ".
The gas escaped from two tanks with a capacity of 5,000 tonnes which had been left as is due to the slowdown in activity due to national confinement, according to local police.
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India has been housebound since the end of March to fight the spread of the new coronavirus and large swathes of its economy are slowing down, or are even completely stopped.
The gas "was left there because of the containment. This led to a chemical reaction and heat appeared in the tanks, and the gas leaked because of it," said Swaroop Rani, a police official. , without specifying the exact type of this gas.
When law enforcement arrived, "you could smell the gas in the air and none of us could stay there for more than a few minutes," she said. .
Called at around 03:30 local time (Wednesday 22:00 GMT) by panicked residents, the authorities evacuated 3,000 to 4,000 people from villages located within a radius of 1 to 1.5 kilometers around the factory.
"We can confirm six deaths so far," RK Meena, a senior police official in Visakhapatnam, told AFP. "Four people died in the hospital. Two others died while trying to flee the village. - one fell into a well and the other from the fourth floor of a building ".
Hospitals in the area admitted at least 1,000 injured, said district hospital coordinator Dr BK Naik, saying they fear the death toll will worsen.
"It is still early in the morning and there are people sleeping in their house who are unconscious," he told AFP, adding that the authorities were currently conducting house-to-house searches.
Images tweeted by an official of the national disaster management authority showed rescuers entering homes equipped with gas masks and oxygen cylinders.
"The death toll is likely to rise," Gana Venkata Reddy Naidu, a member of the Andra Pradesh legislature, told AFP, saying the death toll could be around 25-30.
LG Polymers India presents itself on its site as one of the main producers of polystyrene and expandable polystyrene in the country of 1.3 billion inhabitants. The nature of the escaping gas was not immediately clarified.
"I pray for the safety and well-being of everyone in Visakhapatnam," tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
For many Indians, this escape awakens grim memories.
The country of South Asia was the scene in December 1984 of one of the worst industrial accidents in history, when 40 tonnes of gas had escaped from a pesticide factory in the city of Bhopal (center).
Some 3,500 people had perished in a few days, mostly in the slums around this Union Carbide factory, and thousands more in the years that followed.