Three persons were killed and 16 others injured in a gas explosion after an LPG tanker met with an accident on the National Highway 47 at the Puthentheruvu junction, near Karunagapally, in Kollam district at 3.50 a.m. on Thursday.

The dead were identified as Rasheed, 24; Biju, 32; and Pradeep Kumar, 35, a constable attached to the Chavara police station. They were engaged in rescue operations at the accident site. Seven persons were admitted with grievous injuries to the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital and one to the Alappuzha Medical College Hospital. The other injured were admitted to various government and private hospitals. Among those who sustained injuries were a Sub-Inspector, an Assistant Sub-Inspector and a constable.

The tanker lorry from Kochi, which was carrying 18 tonnes of LPG to the Indian Oil Corporation’s Indane refilling plant at Paripally, near here, rammed a Maruti car at the Puthenthruvu junction and overturned. The outlet valve was breached in the impact of the crash and the gas leak spread in the area.

Motorcycles burnt

Eighteen shops and four houses were destroyed in the explosion. Forty-five second-hand motorcycles that were kept for sale at one of the shops in the vicinity and a police jeep were burnt.

The district administration estimated the loss at Rs. 1.15 crore. Three persons travelling in the Maruti car were admitted to the Karunagapally Taluk Hospital with serious injuries.

A 4-km stretch of the National Highway from the site of the accident was closed to traffic till 2 p.m.

Power switched off

Power supply to the entire area was switched off as a safety measure.

Eyewitnesses said the flames caused by the explosion rose up to 50 ft. Preliminary investigations said the explosion was triggered by the switching of the ignition of a police jeep in the vicinity of the accident site.

The safety relief valve on the tank breached due to pressure from inside after the explosion causing a crack on a portion of the tank shell. Experts said the breaching of the valve was a right procedure, or the tank would have exploded.

Even five hours after the explosion, the tanker lorry was ablaze as Fire and Rescue Services personnel attempted to cool the shell of the tanker by spraying water. Water was sprayed to keep the temperature of the tanker shell under 55 degrees Celsius “so as to avoid the boiling liquid vapour cloud explosion phenomenon.” The flame subsided and was brought under control by 10.45 a.m.

Rescue and fire control operations were supervised by Kollam Collector A. Shajahan and District Superintendent of Police Harshata Ataluri. Ministers Kodyeri Balakrishnan, P.K Gurudasan, N.K. Premachandran and Mullakara Ratnakaran; Alappuzha MP K.C. Venugopal; Thiruvananthapuram Range Inspector-General of Police A. Hemachandran; and Traffic Inspector-General B. Sandhya; inspected the scene of the accident.

Probe ordered

PTI adds: Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said the Controller of Explosives had been asked to set up an expert team to probe the accident.

Food and Civil Supplies Minister C. Divakaran said a meeting would be convened with the representatives of oil companies to work out plans to prevent such incidents and also a contingency plan to deal with such accidents.

Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL) sources in Kochi said the fire had been put out and tanker had been “degassed.” The IOCL’s safety department in Chennai will conduct an independent inquiry, general manager and Kerala coordinator P.M. Nazirudeen said in Kochi.

The BPCL-Kochi Refinery produces only 55 per cent of Kerala’s LPG requirements. The balance was met through other sources, including from Mangalore from where the gas is transferred by road to various plants of the oil companies in the State in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Kochi, Palakkad and Kozhikode. It is transported to various plants by approved contractors, he said.

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