At least 11 people died in the styrene gas leak early today at a polymer plant in Visakhapatnam. The leak forced authorities to evacuate about 250 families around a 3-km radius of the factory.
Here is a timeline of the Visakhapatnam tragedy, reminiscent of the Bhopal gas leak of 1984 but, mercifully, less devastating.
About 3 AM: Styrene gas leaks from one of the two storage tanks of the capacity of 2,000 metric tonnes at LG Polymers (India) Private Limited
3:30 AM: Somebody calls the Visakhapatnam police control room from the RR Venkatapuram village, reporting about a foul pungent smell in the area causing suffocation
3:45 AM: A team of police, accompanied by fire tenders and an ambulance, rushes to Venkatapuram, about 3 km from the Visakhapatnam airport
4 AM: The policemen struggle to enter the village due to foul smell; they alert officers
4:30 AM: People emerge from their houses rush towards safer places like Meghadrigadda; some collapse on the roads. Police summon more ambulances and move them to nearby hospitals and some to faraway King George Hospital.
5 AM: Police officers rush to Venkatapuram. They survey the area in vehicles, blaring sirens and alerting people to come out and move to safer places. Police use several vehicles to move people to Simhachalam and Meghadrigadda areas. NDRF team reaches the accident site.
5:30 AM: Company staff plug the gas leakage, causing some relief
6 AM: District Collector Vinay Chand and senior officials of the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation alert the chief minister’s camp office in Tadepalli in Amaravati and apprise the officials of the situation
6:30 AM: People continue to emerge from their houses. Police rush them to hospitals. The local industry department alerts state industries minister M Gautam Reddy.
8 AM: Additional police forces rush to the area along with more ambulances to move the affected people to various hospitals
10 AM: Police complete the evacuation of all residents of Venkatapuram and four other surrounding villages
10:15 AM: Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls up Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy to inquire about the Visakhapatnam gas leakage tragedy
10:30 AM: The chief minister apprises Governor Biswabhushan Harichandan of the situation
11:30 AM: Reddy leaves for Visakhapatnam by helicopter
12:45 PM: Jagan reaches Vizag, visits King George Hospital and meets victims
1:30 PM: The chief minister holds an official review meeting
2:30 PM: Reddy addresses a press conference where he announces an ex-gratia payment to victims’ kin. Reddy constitutes a committee to probe the gas leak incident.
Styrene (C6H5CH=CH2), also known as ethenylbenzene, vinylbenzene or phenylethene, can damage eyes and the skin and even cause death if ingested or inhaled.
Acute exposure to high vapour concentrations of the gas that had leaked in Bhopal, methyl isocyanate (H3C-N-CO), may cause severe pulmonary oedema and injury to the alveolar walls of the lung, severe corneal damage, and death. Survivors of acute exposures may exhibit long-term respiratory and ocular effects.