Two persons died of exposure to a liquid ammonia leak from the Coromandel International Limited's (CIL) fertiliser plant here late on Monday night.

The deceased were identified as operators D. Madhusudana Rao (52) and G. Ram Prasad (48). They were directly impacted by the poisonous substance while trying to plug the leakage. Five persons are receiving treatment in the ICU and 21 others in the ENT ward of the Government General Hospital (GGH). Their condition is stable, according to GGH superintendent (in-charge) K. Babji.

The sudden burst of liquid ammonia caused panic in the surrounding areas. People in the nearby habitations ran away as the chemical quickly spread in the air causing breathing difficulties and burning sensation in the skin and eyes. Residents of the fishing harbour area situated close to the CIL plant, had a dip in the sea to mitigate the impact while others gasped for breath.

They were temporarily evacuated from the vicinity of the fertiliser plant. The situation was however brought to normal when the pipelines were shut down by the CIL engineers.

The incident occurred when, according to a press release by the CIL, a ‘flange gasket joint’ failed causing the release of ‘a pool of liquid ammonia’ while it was being diverted into the main atmospheric tanks by operating the changeover valves after stabilisation.

It is standard procedure to stabilise liquid ammonia at the jetty (where it is unloaded) by taking it into spheres and then transfer it to pipelines through atmospheric tanks. The leakage took place when the valves failed. The leak was controlled by fire crews of CIL, Nagarjuna Fertilizers and Spectrum Power with the help of government fire service corps.