Hyderabad: At least 14 people were burnt to death and about 30 others injured in a huge blast and fire that took place at a gas pipeline belonging to the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) in East Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh, on Friday morning.
According to Andhra Pradesh Police, lighting of a stove by a tea vendor might have sparked today’s fire in the GAIL pipeline after leaked gas from the line enveloped the area.
As per initial information, there was a major gas leakage from the pipeline at around 4:30 am at Nagaram village in Mamidikuduru Mandal of the district which spread to nearby areas and lighting of a stove at a tea shop triggered the fire and a blast, IGP North Coastal Zone Atul Singh said.
However, he said only after a detailed inquiry the exact cause of the incident will be known.
The dead include three women and three children. The death toll may rise as the condition of 15 of the injured is said to be critical. According to an official of the East Godavari district, the administration recovered 13 bodies from the accident site while another death was reported from the hospital where the injured are being treated.
Talking to reporters, state Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu said that 14 people were killed and many others were injured when the fire broke out at around 5:45 am.
The minister added: “The fire caused massive losses. Coconut trees and other crops in over 10 acres were reduced to ashes.”
The injured were shifted to hospitals at Amalapuram and Kakinada towns.
President Pranab Mukherjee has condoled loss of lives in the explosion.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced ex-gratia relief of Rs 2 lakh from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund for the next of the kin of those who have lost their lives in the incident and Rs 50,000 for those who were seriously injured.
The Prime Minister’s relief is in addition to the relief assistance given by the Petroleum Ministry and GAIL, said a PMO statement.
On microblogging website Twitter, Modi condoled the loss of lives in the GAIL pipeline fire and said that he has asked Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and GAIL chairman BC Tripathi to ensure immediate relief at the accident site. Pradhan has constituted a high-level committee to probe the GAIL pipeline fire.
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Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who is cutting short his visit to Delhi and rushing to the accident site, reviewed the situation with the Collector and has also ordered an inquiry into the incident.
Issuing a statement, GAIL chairman Tripathi said the fire occurred in an 18-inch pipeline of state-owned Gas Authority of India Limited near Tatipaka refinery of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).
“The reasons for the accident are not known yet. We are currently focused on rescue and relief operations,” he said earlier in the day.
State-controlled energy firm ONGC has shut two gas fields in Andhra Pradesh in the wake of the incident.
“Fields connected to the pipeline have been shut as the pipeline is closed because of the fire,” a news agency quoted NK Verma, the Board Director (Exploration), as saying. It was not immediately clear how much production was affected.
The huge flames leaping out of the pipeline damaged houses and shops near the blast site. The villagers ran out of their houses in panic as the fire accompanied by loud blasts engulfed a large area.
Local police officials said fire tenders brought the blaze under control.
The Andhra Pradesh CM has directed Deputy Chief Minister N Chinna Rajappa to rush to the blast site to monitor rescue and relief operations. Rajappa, who is also the home minister, asked district officials to take all measures to provide relief to the injured.
YSR Congress party chief YS Jagan Mohan Reddy expressed shock and grief over the accident. He demanded best medicare to the injured and a probe into the incident.
Residents of Nagaram village said they heard a deafening sound and soon after a huge ball of fire engulfed the area.
Expressing anguish that the pipelines are located in residential areas, they alleged that officials of oil companies have, of late, not promptly been attending to the safety aspects.
Though smell of gas was being felt in the village, the officials did not look into the possibility of a leakage, they claimed.
“The local residents are angry because they feel that the GAIL authorities did not bother though smell was coming and pipelines were rusting. The Home Minister (N Chinarajappa) and district officials are talking to them,” Finance Minister Y Ramakrishnudu said.
The locals recalled the massive fire in a gas well at Pasarlapudi village in East Godavari district in mid-1990s which could not be put out for nearly two months.