At least 11 die after gas leak ‘spreads through manholes’ in Indian city
At least 11 people died and four others were hospitalised in serious condition after a gas leak in a city of the northern Indian state of Punjab which underwent a night-long decontamination process.
The leak of an unidentified gas occurred on Sunday around 6.30am in the Giaspura neighbourhood of Ludhiana city, Punjab, prompting authorities to seal the area contaminated with poisonous gas.
The fatalities include five members from one family as well as three children.
The gas leak affected three businesses in the area — a dairy store, a grocery store and a clinic —where people had gathered to buy daily supplies and some to see a doctor.
Mandeep Singh Sidhu, Ludhiana police commissioner, said gas sampling is being conducted by National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to confirm what kind of gas leaked in the area.
Wearing a mask, police commissioner Singh said blood sampling of the deceased is done and it has been found that the gas affected the brain and not the lungs.
He said the Punjab police have lodged a case in the incident against unknown people and an investigation is underway.
An official said the gas may have leaked from sewage manholes in the area and the toxic gas might have become a hazardous cocktail after reacting with methane in the sewage drains.
Ludhiana deputy commissioner Surabhi Malik told PTI: "We are going to collect samples from manholes. It is quite likely that some chemical reacted with methane in manholes."
The neighbourhood is an industrial area with clothing factories where a lot of migrant labourers from other cities come to work.
Ms Malik said the NDRF team has used an air quality sensor and detected high levels of Hydrogen Sulphide gas which is a kind of neurotoxin. They are trying to ascertain how the gas leaked.
“It is likely that neurotoxins released might have caused deaths. We are studying the matter,” she said.
The authorities have sealed around 600 metres of the area and cordons will be reduced carefully, she said.
The complaint filed in the incident said the poisonous gas might have emanated from partially open manholes and spread to the shops and residential area.
The autopsy reports of victims have suggested that the deaths were due to “inhalation poisoning”.
“The cause of death has come out as inhalation poisoning but the type of poison will be clear only after viscera examination. Hydrogen sulphide is so toxic that even one breath of it taken inside can kill a person. Probably some acidic waste was thrown into sewer which reacted with methane, carbon monoxide and other sewerage gases to produce hydrogen sulphide,” said Dr Charan Kamal, a forensic expert at Civil Hospital, Ludhiana, was quoted as saying by the Indian Express.
Ms Malik said the area has been decontaminated following an overnight process with the help of the NDRF team.
"The whole (Sunday) night, teams of the National Disaster Response Force and the municipal corporation took readings of ambient air quality in the area and hydrogen sulphide was not detected in the air," she said.
"During the night, the level of hydrogen sulphide in manholes was high but it has declined to a lower level after chemical decontamination," she added.
Videos from the area showed members of the NDRF team wearing protective suits with oxygen cylinders and gas masks. A disturbing visual showed two police personnel covering their face with cloth masks carrying a dead body of a man who had collapsed in front of a shop.
Five deceased have been identified from a family who arrived almost 28 years ago from Bihar to Ludhiana and ran a dentist clinic in the area.
Kavilash, 40, whose second name is not known, his wife Varsha, 35, their daughter Kalpna, 16, and sons – Abhynarayan, 13, and Aryan, 10 died in the gas leak.
Navneet Kumar, 39, an accountant and his wife Neetu Devi, 36, who had arrived from Bihar also died in the incident.
Saurav Goyal, 35, who ran a grocery store and Navneet Goyal, along with his wife Preety, 31, and mother Kamlesh Goyal, have been identified as victims.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi expressed grief over the tragedy due to gas leak. His office announced a compensation of Rs 200,000 ( £1,953) to the next of kin of all the deceased people. Those who fell sick due to poisonous gas will be given Rs 50,000 (£488).