The leak, which happened at the LG Polymers plant in the city of Visakhapatnam, in India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh, took place in the early hours of Thursday morning local time.
Footage from the scene shows people lying crumpled and unconscious on the ground, some next to motorcycles and vehicles that have toppled over.
The plant is located close to a village of between 3,000 to 4,000 residents. “When we arrived on the spot a lot of people were lying on the ground unconscious and we evacuated around 1,000 people and rushed them to the hospital. Of these, around 100 are seriously ill,” said Tej Bharath, the Vizag Revenue Divisional Officer.
At least 200 people are now in hospital, according to Gopalapatnam Police Inspector V Ramanayya. He added that they transported hundreds of people in ambulances, police vehicles, and state-provided buses, while others left on their own. Images show roads and highways leading away from the plant filled with people running to safety, many carrying people who had been injured or fallen unconscious.
Rescue operations are now complete and the gas leak is under control, police confirmed.
It was not immediately clear what had led to the leak. However, the plant, which is owned by the South Korean company LG Corp, had recently reopened after coronavirus lockdown restrictions were eased, with the gas leak occurring during the process of re-starting operations, according to Bharath.
The gas has been identified as Styrene, a flammable liquid that is used to make a variety of industrial products, including polystyrene, fiberglass, rubber, and latex.
Photos of the aftermath has drawn parallels online with the Bhopal disaster — a gas leak in the central Indian city of Bhopal in December 1984.
Nearly half a million people were exposed to toxic fumes, nearly 4,000 people died in the immediate aftermath, and around 10,000 subsequent deaths have been blamed on the leak, which is now considered one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet today that he had spoken with officials regarding Thursday’s leak, and was monitoring the situation.
“I pray for everyone’s safety and well-being in Visakhapatnam,” he tweeted.
The state’s chief minister is also set to visit the city hospital where residents are being treated, his office confirmed in a tweet.
“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,” said the tweet.
Local authorities and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are on the ground responding to the leak.
The city’s civic authority, the Greater Vishakapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC), warned residents to stay indoors during the response effort.
“There is gas leakage identified at LG Polymers in Gopalpatnam. Requesting Citizens around these locations not to come out of houses for the sake of safety precautions,” GVMC tweeted. “As precautionary measures, the colonies and villages around the industry may leave to safer locations. Please use wet cloth as mask to cover nose and mouth.”