Just one rescue vehicle; disaster management authority calls for two more

Despite the horrifying death and destruction caused by the explosion of LPG transported in tanker lorries in Kerala in recent years, the absence of critical equipment still hampers the State’s ability to handle such emergencies.

In the worst incident of its kind, an LPG carrier had burst into flames at Chala in Kannur district on August 27, 2012, killing 20 persons and injuring as many. On December 31, 2009, seven people lost their lives when the gas transported in a tanker exploded at Karunagapally in Kollam.

Highlighting these incidents, the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) has stressed the need for a Statewide mechanism to respond to such emergencies. Large parts of the State are considered vulnerable to the hazards of LPG tanker accidents. On January 7, this year, a gas leak in an LPG tanker on the National Highway near Angamaly triggered panic among the local people.

The absence of special equipment to handle such disasters is the most crippling factor in Kerala’s preparedness for such situations. The State has just one emergency rescue vehicle suited for the purpose. Acquired by the Indian Oil Corporation, it is based in Ernakulam from where it can rush to an accident site in central Kerala within the critical response time. Equipped to plug an LPG leak or transfer gas from a stricken tanker, the specialised vehicle can be used to manage other chemical accidents as well.

Realising the need for such a critical facility to service the northern and southern districts as well, SDMA had requested the Chemical Emergency Management Response Centre (CHEMREC) at Kakkanad to prevail upon the petroleum companies to acquire two more vehicles to be stationed at Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram.

“An emergency rescue vehicle is too expensive to procure and maintain, putting it out of reach of the State government. But oil companies can utilise the funds earmarked for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to acquire it,” says Sekhar L. Kuriakose, member, SDMA. However, the proposal has remained on paper, according to officials.

Emergency plan

“With LPG tankers crisscrossing the road network in Kerala, it is imperative to have a detailed district-level emergency plan,” says Faisel T. Illiyas, Assistant Professor, Institute of Land and Disaster Management (ILDM). “In a bullet tanker, the LPG is transported as liquid under high pressure. On accidental release, it quickly vaporises into highly combustible gas which can catch fire or explode, making it difficult to contain except with specialised equipment.” Most gas leaks and explosions are caused by damage to the valves that control the flow of LPG from the tanker. The heavily populated areas along the sides of the National Highway in Kerala enhance the vulnerability factor.

Impractical options

Other than the one stationed in Ernakulam, the nearest available emergency rescue vehicles are at Coimbatore and Mangalore. But officials say that requisitioning these units will be meaningless, considering the time taken to negotiate the crowded roads in the State. The feasible option, they say, will be to have three rescue vehicles, one each in Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam and Kozhikode.

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