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Gas leak at LG Polymers plant in India leaves at least 13 people dead

Gas leak at LG Polymers plant in India
People affected by a gas leak at the LG Polymers Plant are transported in a ambulance in Visakhapatnam, India, May 7, 2020. REDDI NARENDRA/REUTERS

New Delhi — A gas leak at an industrial plant in southern India has killed at least 13 people and sickened hundreds more, police told CBS News on Thursday.

The chemical gas leaked at a plant owned by LG Polymers, a subsidiary of the South Korean megacorporation LG, on the outskirts of Visakhapatnam city in Andhra Pradesh state early Thursday morning. Detected around 3 a.m. local time, the leak left hundreds of residents in the surrounding area unconscious or sick as they slept. 

"Thirteen people, including a child, have died and between 300 to 400 people are being treated in hospitals," Swarupa Rani, an Assistant Commissioner of Police in Visakhapatnam, told CBS News. 

Andhra Pradesh state police chief Damodar Goutam Sawang later told reporters that about 800 people were hospitalized, though many were quickly discharged. 

Gas leak at LG Polymers plant in India
Dead cattle affected by a gas leak at the LG Polymers Plant is pictured in Visakhapatnam, India, May 7, 2020. REDDI NARENDRA/REUTERS

Hundreds more have complained of breathlessness and a burning sensation in their eyes. More than 1,500 people were evacuated from residential areas within about a 2-mile radius of the plant, city officials said. 

A National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team equipped with gas masks checked houses in the area to find anyone who might have fallen unconscious. 

Videos shared widely on social media and broadcast by Indian TV news channels showed several people lying on a street while police and emergency workers helped victims into ambulances and other vehicles.  

LG Chem Ltd, the South Korean company that owns the polymer plant in India, has said it was investigating the cause of the leak.

"We are looking into the exact damages, cause of the death and details of the incident," the company was quoted as saying in a statement. 

The company said a night shift maintenance worker discovered the leak from a tank, and confirmed that the Styrene gas involved can cause nausea and dizziness if inhaled.

The plant in India makes polystyrene plastics used in the manufacturing of electric fan blades, cutlery and cosmetics packaging, according to the company website. Styrene is highly flammable and releases a poisonous gas when burned.

Operations at the plant were shut down at the end of March when India implemented a nationwide lockdown to fight the spread of the coronavirus, but resumed early this week when the government eased those measures

The leak at the LG Chem plant was not the first such disaster in India, or the deadliest. 

In one of the world's worst industrial disasters, more than 3,700 people were killed in the central Indian city of Bhopal in 1984 when a different poisonous gas leaked from a Union Carbide plant. The unofficial death toll is claimed to be over 16,000, and generations of survivors have suffered medical conditions including cancer, mental illness and hormonal disorders. Some children are still born with deformities in the area some 36 years later. 

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