Though leak was sealed, wait for experts lasts for hours

Bearing an eerie similarity to the LPG tanker lorry accident at Chalai in Kannur which claimed the lives of 20 people, a speeding LPG tanker overturned near a thickly populated area at Koduvally here on Wednesday, killing a 14-year-old boy.

Fire and Rescue Services personnel rushed to the spot within 15 minutes and plugged the leak temporarily with their limited resources. However, small levels of leakage continued as the police and fire and rescue personnel waited for the arrival of an expert team from Mangalore to transfer the contents to another tanker caused panic in the locality for more than eight hours.

An area of 500 metre radius around the accident spot was evacuated immediately fearing a flare up similar to Chalai. Residents from hundreds of houses had to shift to their relatives’ houses until the leak was safely plugged.

The accident occurred in the early hours at a sharp turn near the South Koduvally Madrassa Bazaar on National Highway 212, around 25 kilometres from Kozhikode city. According to eye witnesses, the tanker lorry coming from the Thamarassery side, swerved to avoid a motorcycle and overturned.

“We were having our morning prayers at the mosque adjacent to the accident spot, when we heard a loud thud and rushed to the spot. The tanker had overturned and hit the wall of a house. Both legs of the boy were severed,” said T. Moitheen Koya, a resident of the area.

The deceased, M. Mohammed Feroze, was a part-time newspaper vendor. He along with two others was sorting the day’s newspaper when the incident occurred.

Newspapers were seen scattered near the spot. A tree was uprooted and a portion of a nearby shop was damaged in the accident.

Following the accident, the electricity supply to the area was disconnected. The police imposed a ban on the use of mobile phones near the accident spot. Fire and Rescue Services personnel sealed a leak, near the tanker’s pressure gauge, using M-seal.

“We brought the situation under control within an hour by sealing the leaks. Also, there has been constant sprinkling of water over the tanker to keep it below the safe temperature,” said Arun Bhaskar, Assistant Divisional Officer of the Fire and Rescue Services, Kozhikode.

However, fears about other leakage spots on the bottom side of the tanker and the faint smell of LPG in the air, kept the local people on their toes.

A team from the Indian Oil Corporation’s LPG plant at Chelari here arrived at the spot to provide standby support until the Hindustan Petroleum (HP)’s team arrived from Mangalore.

The lack of quick response teams of the petroleum companies delayed effective action after the accident as traffic through the highway connecting Kozhikode and Wayanad remained closed even late in the evening. The availability of a parallel route through Chathamangalam averted the possibility of a day long traffic block.

The team from Mangalore reached only at 2 p.m., more than eight hours after the accident. The only gas plants of the HP in Kerala are in Palakkad and Cochin.

When contacted, an official at the Palakkad plant told The Hindu that a rescue team had left from there at 9 a.m. He said that he was unaware of the reasons for the team not reaching the spot even in the afternoon.

“Usually when an accident like this happens, a team will be sent from the nearest gas plant, irrespective of the owning company of the tanker involved in the accident. In this case, a team was sent from the Chelari plant of the IOC. However, major recovery operations can be done only after the fully equipped team from the parent company arrives. Only those who are on ground can answer for the delay in arrival,” said the official.

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