One hundred and eighteen people, including four firemen and a police constable, were hospitalised after they inhaled chlorine gas that leaked from a cylinder in a Mumbai Port Trust godown in Sewri in the early hours of Wednesday. Seven of them are in critical condition.

The site was cordoned off and people in the vicinity were evacuated. Five of the 141 cylinders lying in the hazardous goods storage facility at Haji Bunder contained liquid chlorine. The other 136 were empty. All the five cylinders have been neutralised.

The gas leak was reported from the Port Trust premises near the Lal Bahadur Shastri College of Advanced Maritime Studies and Research at 3.30 a.m. Police sources said, excepting a college hostel, there was no other settlement in the area. Nearly 1,000 students were evacuated. The affected people complained of giddiness, vomiting and a burning sensation in the eyes and throat and on the skin. According to Dr. Tatyarao Lahane, Dean of J.J. Hospital, 100 patients were admitted to the hospital. “We have discharged 37 of them. Seven are still in the Critical Care Unit and we expect their condition to stabilise by tomorrow [Thursday] morning. They are suffering from mild Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome [ARDS]. Ten patients are in the Medical Intensive Care Unit,” he told The Hindu.

“Early in the morning, I suddenly felt like my skin was burning,” Tonmoy Mandal (23), a dock worker admitted to the J.J. Hospital said. “I woke up coughing and my eyes started burning. We all ran to the police station and they called an ambulance.”

All the 18 affected MbPT employees were admitted to the B.P.T. Hospital. Mukund Kelkar, Chief Medical Officer of B.P.T Hospital, said all the patients were fine. According to a release issued by the Mumbai Port Trust, the cylinders were imported in 1997, but the importer had not taken delivery. Port Trust sources said there were standard procedures to dispose of hazardous cargo. But permission from many agencies had to be taken. “It seems permission from one of the agencies was pending,” an official said on condition of anonymity.