Chandigarh, May 10: At least eight people were killed and over 100 injured in a series of cylinder explosions in Ludhiana today. Unofficial estimates put the death toll at 12.
Around 2 pm, an LPG cylinder burst at a house that doubles up as a hosiery unit in the thickly-populated residential Khud Mohalla. The unit had nine people working inside when the cylinder burst, sending dense fumes all over, civil surgeon S.. Tiwari said over the telephone.
A large crowd gathered outside the unit and rushed in to rescue those trapped. As they broke open the door which was on fire, two cylinders containing diesel and benzene also exploded, Tiwari said.
The flames charred six people and engulfed the entrance, spreading to three houses nearby. Three people working in the unit died immediately.
“At least 20 people are in a critical condition. They have been shifted to three hospitals. Forty-five others are undergoing treatment while the rest have been discharged after first aid,” Tiwari said.
Additional deputy commissioner Rahul Bhandari said the death toll is likely to rise. “Many of those critical were hit by the flames from the diesel and benzene cylinders that had been stored inside. Some of them have suffered over 70 per cent burns.”
A Ludhiana police officer said there was a woman among the dead. “We have information that a woman worked inside. But since the bodies have been charred beyond recognition, we will be able to ascertain the sex of those killed only after the post-mortem. Among the first to reach the scene was local councillor Parveen Bansal.
“We had no idea that so many people would be killed while trying to rescue those trapped inside the unit. We did not think the fire would spread on breaking the door. Had we not evacuated those living next door when the flames began to spread, the toll would have been higher,” he said.
“There are many illegal units operating in residential areas in Ludhiana. Many of them do not even possess a small, hand-operated fire extinguisher. This is a disaster that was waiting to happen. And this is not the last one either,” a police officer said.
The administration has ordered a probe. Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh the deaths and asked the administration to make proper arrangements to treat the injured.
The fire has been brought under control, but fire tenders had not been removed from the accident site till late in the evening. This is out of fear that chemicals stored in the unit and adjoining houses might trigger fresh blazes.