NAGARAM/AMALAPURAM: At least 16 people were killed and 30 others sustained burns in a massive blaze that raged through the little-known Nagaram village in Mamidikuduru Mandal of East Godavari district following a blast in an apparently leaking gas pipeline of the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) early on Friday. The impact of the blast was such that coconut plantations and several other trees spread across 10 acres were burnt completely.
The injured were rushed to hospitals in Amalapuram and Rajahmundry where three succumbed to burns. The condition of at least eight others was said to be critical. Police recovered 13 bodies from the spot. As per preliminary investigation and information from the locals, the gas began leaking around 4.30 am and spread to nearby areas. LPG reportedly gushed out at the rate of 60-80 PSI from the 18-inch pipeline.
A tea stall owner, Vasu, lit his stove around 5.45 am and triggered the blast. His stall was just about 150 metres from the pipeline. However, police said the exact cause of the accident will be known only after a thorough probe. The blast sent shockwaves across the village and people ran for their lives, not knowing what had happened. The villagers told Express that a deafening sound was followed by a huge ball of fire. Thick smoke enveloped the area, up to at least 1 km, even as the flames rose up to a height of 70 feet. A five-feet deep crater also formed and exposed the broken pipeline, which supplies gas to the Lanco Power Plant in Vijayawada. Five fire tenders from the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and the local fire station were rushed to spot. The firefighters managed to extinguish the blaze around 10 am.
Several irate villagers later attacked the office of the ONGC Gas Connecting Station (GCS) in the village and damaged vehicles of the ONGC and GAIL before the police pacified them. Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who was in Delhi, cut short his trip and rushed back along with Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. The duo visited the destroyed village and met the injured at a hospital in Kakinada. Naidu announced an ex-gratia of `25 lakh to the kin of the victims. Of the `25 lakh, GAIL will pay `20 lakh, the State government `3 lakh and the Centre `2 lakh. Pradhan ordered a probe by a high-level committee. GAIL too ordered an inquiry.
In a statement, Chairman B C Tripathi said the fire occurred in an 18-inch pipeline near the Tatipaka refinery of the ONGC. “The reasons for the accident are not known yet. We are currently focused on rescue and relief operations,” he said. ONGC shut down two nearby gas fields in the wake of the incident. President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed their condolences to the bereaved families. Modi announced an ex-gratia of `2 lakh from the PM’s National Relief Fund to the bereaved families and `50,000 to the seriously injured.