A massive explosion on a state-owned gas pipeline running through the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has killed at least 16 people.
“At least 16 people are dead. We have recovered 13 bodies so far,” state home minister N. Chinna Rajappa said on Friday after the blast near a refinery in the East Godavari district.
Television pictures showed flames at least 10 metres high leaping into the dawn sky, scorching trees in a surrounding coconut grove and burning flimsy huts in the coastal area.
The fire on the 45-centimetre pipeline owned by the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) was extinguished by mid-morning and the gas cut off, a senior administrative officer said.
At least 15 people were hospitalised with injuries from the explosion, which occurred around 5.30am, the company said, while the exact cause of the blast was not yet known.
“We are currently focused on rescue and relief operations,” GAIL chairman B.C. Tripathi was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.
GAIL is the country’s largest state-owned natural gas processing and distribution company and the damaged pipeline is used to transport pressurised natural gas for a power plant.
Witnesses contacted by phone told newsa agency AFP angry locals entered an office belonging to GAIL near the site of the accident, pelting it with stones and vandalising property.
The Times of India newspaper said villagers had complained of negligence as the pipeline had become rusty, while other reports said a stove might have ignited leaked gas.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he had asked the petroleum minister and other senior officers to ensure immediate relief at the accident site.
“My thoughts with the families of those who lost their lives in the GAIL pipeline fire. Prayers with the injured,” he tweeted.
Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who rushed to the site of explosion, told reporters an investigation had begun.