At least 15 people were burnt alive and 18, including five children, were severely injured in a gas pipe explosion on Friday morning at Nagaram village in Godavari (East) district, some 560km off Hyderabad.
Gas had leaked from an 18-inch pipeline, operated by state-owned energy company Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL), throughout the night and spread around and inside the homes of 300 villagers. The pipe supplies gas to a Lanco Infratech Ltd power plant near Vijayawada.
A huge explosion occurred as soon as people lit stoves in their houses around 5.30 in the morning to make tea. The huge ball of fire ravaged shops, thatched huts, coconut trees for two hours as people ran helter-skelter to save their lives. About 50km from the site is an ONGC gas collection centre at Tatipaka.
The government has ordered an inquiry and will work out an action plan to avoid similar accidents in future, CM Chandrababu Naidu said in a tweet. He cut short his Delhi visit and rushed back to Rajahmundry by a special flight and reached the spot in the afternoon. He directed ONGC and GAIL officials to prepare a relief plan for the families.
"We have recovered 14 bodies so far and the toll is likely to increase," said Andhra Pradesh home minister N Chinnarajappa.
Those with 90 per cent burns have been shifted to a private hospital in Kakinada and others are being treated at a general hospital in Amalapuram.
PM Narender Modi has announced a Rs2 lakh ex-gratia for the dead and Rs50,000 for the injured.
Nagaram villagers said gas had been leaking throughout the night. GAIL officials made minor repairs about three days ago on a leakage complaint but there was no improvement," Chinarajappa said.
Andhra Pradesh police said it has started an investigation into allegations of some Nagaram villagers that GAIL had failed to act on their complaints of gas leaks from its pipeline in the past few days.
Police who have lodged a case in connection with the blast said they were investigating whether GAIL had taken necessary safety measures for the gas pipeline passing through the village.
ONGC has shut down its gas field. Since the gas supply has been stopped, the Lanco plant in Vijayawada has stopped power generation by about 300MW leading to power disruption in the coastal region.