Eight persons were killed when a bullet tanker carrying liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) overturned and the gas leakage fuelled an inferno engulfing the vehicle and neighbouring buildings at Perne on the Mangalore-Bangalore National Highway, 47 km from Mangalore, around 10 a.m. on Tuesday.
Six of them died on the spot. Four persons suffered serious burns. Two other vehicles at the scene of accident also caught fire but its occupants ran to safety.
At least five houses, a garage, and two shops on either side of the highway were destroyed.
Those killed in the fire include the driver of the tanker, who is yet to be identified; Shobha Rai and her son Sunil staying in a building close by; their neighbour Guruvappa Nayak, anganwadi teacher Vanita and her son Chitresh. Khatijamma (38), another resident and mother of five children, all aged under 13, died of serious burns in Father Muller Hospital in Mangalore.
Vasantha S. (30), who was married six months ago, died in A.J. Hospital in Mangalore.
The injured have been admitted to Father Muller Hospital, Government Wenlock Hospital, A.J. Hospital and Mahaveera Hospital in Puttur. Many others escaped unhurt by hiding behind a hillock.
The accident occurred when the driver of the tanker lost control while overtaking a vehicle near a sharp bend. While the gas from the tanker leaked and caught fire, three LPG cylinders in a nearby godown exploded because of the heat generated, a fire officer said. As many as 24 other cylinders were shifted.
Shobha Rai, who was washing clothes in her house, and her son Sunil were charred to death, and the roof of their house had collapsed by the time the fire services personnel reached the spot. Anganwadi teacher Vanitha and her son Chitresh were passing by when the raging inferno caught them unawares. The charred body of the driver was found in the driver’s cabin of the tanker.
The driver did not have an assistant. A goat was also found dead.
By the time fire services could reach the spot, the damage had been caused. “It was all over in a matter of 10 minutes,” said H.S. Varadarajan, Chief Fire Officer, Mangalore Region.
The tanker was carrying about 20 tonnes of LPG and it belonged to Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd. (HPCL). Having put out the fire in the houses, the Fire and Emergency Services personnel were constantly pouring water over the tanker to prevent further explosion till HP officials came and plugged the leak. The company personnel came around 2.30 p.m. Traffic towards Bangalore was diverted via Puttur till 6 p.m.
Deputy Commissioner Harsh Gupta has announced compensation of Rs. 1 lakh to the families of those killed and to those who suffered more than 50 per cent burns. The rest of the injured will be given Rs. 50,000 each. This is apart from the compensation to be given by the oil company.