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Gas leak at Indian chemical plant kills at least 7

At least seven people were killed and hundreds hospitalised after a pre-dawn gas leak at a chemical plant in eastern India on Thursday that left unconscious victims lying in the streets, authorities said.

The gas escaped out of tanks at a complex owned by South Korea’s LG Chem that had suspended operations because of India’s coronavirus lockdown.

Footage on Indian television channels showed people, including women and children, slumped motionless in the streets of Visakhapatnam, an industrial port city in Andhra Pradesh state.

B K Naik, district hospitals coordinator, said that seven people had been confirmed killed and 1,000 had initially been hospitalised.

“This is a calamity,” Naik told AFP.

However throughout the day hundreds of people were released and Naik said on Thursday afternoon about 600 remained in hospital, none of whom were in a critical condition.

Pictures taken by AFP at the King George Hospital in the city early in the day had shown two or three patients on each bed, many of them children, and many unconscious.

Some of the patients were lying on the beds in the sparse hospital wearing just shorts and without tops or shoes.

– Rashes, sore eyes –

According to the Times of India there were at least 10 were feared dead, including an eight-year-old girl, and 5,000 people had fallen sick.

Residents were complaining of breathing problems, rashes on their body and sore eyes, it added.

R. Brahma, a government official part of the relief and rescue operation, said “mist blowers” had been used to spray water in the affected area to neutralise the effect of the gas.

Authorities advised people to wear wet clothes and masks, and avoid eating uncovered food.

They also tweeted that people should eat bananas and drink milk to “neeutralise the effect of the gas”.

The incident had echoes of one of the worst industrial disasters in history when gas leaked from a pesticide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal in 1984.

Around 3,500 people, mainly in shanties around the plant operated by Union Carbide, died in the days that followed and thousands more in the following years. People continue to suffer its after-effects to this day.

Government statistics say that at least 100,000 people living near to the Union Carbide plant have been victims of chronic illnesses.

Survivors still suffer from ailments such as respiratory and kidney problems, hormonal imbalances, mental illness and several forms of cancer.

New generations have been made ill by the polluted groundwater and poisonous breast milk fed to them from birth.

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