In the worst-ever accident in the history of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP), at least nine employees, some of them senior officers, were killed when an oxygen tank in the steel melt shop-II exploded on Wednesday.

Five of the injured with 90 per cent burns, along with four others, were rushed to various hospitals in the city. The toll is likely to mount. VSP General Manager (Projects) D.S. Khalsi is among the seriously injured.

“The bodies were burnt beyond recognition,” INTUC leader Mantri Rajasekhar said. The employees of VSP and M.N. Dastur and Co., the consultant for VSP's expansion programme, were on duty. One of the deceased was said to be of the rank of Deputy General Manager. There was confusion over the number of dead with Gajuwaka MLA Ch. Venkataramaiah, quoting union sources, putting the toll at 15 and Collector Lav Agarwal confirming the death of nine. The incident took place when gas from the newly-commissioned converter backfired. Union leaders said over 20 workers and officers were believed to have been on duty at the time of the accident, which occurred at about 8.30 p.m. “We saw six bodies on the spot and four more in the casualty wing of the Visakha Ukku Hospital,” they said.