AT LEAST 15 people died after a pipeline carrying gas exploded in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, a senior minister has said.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing flames erupting from the pipeline belonging to the Gas Authority of India Limited (Gail) – India’s largest state-owned natural gas processing and distribution company – in East Godavari district early yesterday.
The cause is not yet known. Local media said ten people were also injured.
Gail chairman BC Tripathi told reporters the fire occurred in an 18in pipeline near a refinery run by the state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Commission in Nagaram village.
“The reasons for the accident are not known yet. We are currently focused on rescue and relief operations,” he said.
Neetu Kumari Prasad, a senior official in East Godavari, said the fire, which has burned down scores of houses, had been brought under control but warned the death toll could rise if more bodies were discovered in the debris.
He said the government had ordered a “high-level probe” to find out the cause of the blast which happened at 5:30am in Nagaram, the site of a connecting station for the gas company.
The fire burned for more than three hours before being brought under control.
Residents said they had complained that the gas pipelines had not been properly maintained, but said their fears had been ignored by officials.
“People are angry that Gail authorities didn’t pay heed when they complained that the pipes had become rusty,” one resident said.
Residents of neighbouring villages were also evacuated to safer areas after the explosion, said East Godavari district collector Neetu Kumari Prasad. Nagaram is about 350 miles east of the state capital, Hyderabad.
Two weeks ago, six people were killed and 29 others injured in an explosion and gas pipeline leak at India’s biggest government-run steel plant in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.
In that incident, noxious gas escaped from a blast furnace while a nearby water pipeline was being repaired at the government-run plant in Chhattisgarh state.
Workers say deaths could have been avoided had safety measures been in place.
The plant, which is India’s main producer of steel rails, employs tens of thousands of people.
India suffers from poor regulation of industry, worsened by widespread corruption
Gail operates a 11,000km (6,840 mile) natural gas pipeline network and seven gas processing units across India. It is also involved in petrochemicals, exploration, city gas distribution and wind and solar power.
State finance minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu said the death toll in the latest incident had risen from 14 to 15 when one of the people who had been badly burned in the explosion died as a result of their injuries last night.
Vandana Chanana, a top official of state-run Gas Authority, said 14 other people were injured in the fire. Doctors said at least five of the injured were in critical condition, company officials said.
“The extent of damage is being assessed,” he added.