17 workers affected; condition of three critical at Vizag hospital

A major disaster was averted when explosions followed by a gas leak rocked a pesticide plant of Nagarjuna Agrichem Limited at Chilakalapalem, about 12 km from here, on Saturday.

Seventeen factory workers were affected, three of them critically.

The seriously injured were rushed to a corporate hospital in Visakhapatnam.

The blast occurred on the fifth floor of the building at about 9 a.m. when 300 workers on duty left their workplace during tea break.

It would have been major catastrophe had all the workers been inside at the time when fire engulfed the third, fourth and fifth floors. “The reactor could not absorb the pressure while preparing a chemical formulation -- Myco butanil -- for making a pesticide. There was a backfire leading to a massive explosion and fire,” Collector G. Venkatram Reddy told The Hindu. The explosion was so deafening that villagers in the vicinity ran for their lives. Panic-stricken villagers from Alinagaram, Chilakalapalem, Akkivalasa and Ravupalli complained of dizziness and nausea. All the educational institutions in the area were given a holiday.

“When I heard the deafening sound and saw glass partitions in our factory broken, I thought there was an earthquake,” said M. Srinivas, a technician of Sam Piston, a piston-making unit near Nagarjuna Agrichem Ltd. plant.

Tension gripped the area as the management was tight-lipped about the cause of the accident.

Attempts to extinguish the fire were hampered by lack of proper equipment. Fire engines with hydraulic platform and foam arrived from Visakhapatnam only at 1.30 p.m.

Joint Chief Inspector of Factories D. Chandrasekhar Verma, said the solvents caught fire at a height of 29 metres as the reactor could not withstand the pressure outside. Sources said the safety mechanism at the factory failed to function after detecting the snag.

Meanwhile, the government ordered closure of the pesticide plant. The Collector said the company would be allowed to resume operations only after a detailed evaluation of its safety systems.

Kiran shocked

Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy asked the administration to ensure that all those in the factory were rescued, he wanted them to provide the best medical assistance to the injured.