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Front page banner headline of Indian Express, December 4, 1984

Poison gas claims 408 lives in Bhopal

Leak from pesticide plant affects 20,000

By N.K. SINGH

BHOPAL, Dec 3.

The capital city of Madhya Pradesh turned into a deadly gas chamber in the early hours of Monday.

 About 500 people, most of them children, were feared killed by a poisonous gas, which leaked from the local pesticide manufacturing plant of Union Carbide.

According to official sources, 408 bodies had already reached the morgue of the local Medical College Hospital. “This is not the final fi­gure,” sources said.

(According to PTI over 20,000 inhabitants, affected by the worst-ever environmental disaster in the country, were undergoing treatments in various hospitals here.)

As the rescue operation was progressing in the affected localities, many more bodies were being brought in by trucks and other vehicles. Several people took bodies directly to the cremation and burial grounds.

This correspondent, who undertook a tour of the affected localities on Monday morning, saw scores of bodies on the roadside and other public places. Hundreds of cattle also perished in the worst tragedy of Madhya Pradesh.

Several people died in sleep. Their bodies were still in their homes on Monday evening.

The cremation ground at Chhola locality ran out of firewood to burn the bodies streaming in on Monday evening. Similar was the position at the local burial grounds.

The leakage of the killer gas in the plant, which is situated right in the town, started at 1 a.m.

As the smell of the gas spread, panic-stricken people of the old town, which is a densely populated, literally ran for their lives.

At two a.m. this correspondent could see a mass of humanity evacuating the town as if someone had dropped a bomb.

Women with babies in their arms, small children, old men pushed in hand-carts or being carried by their family members — everyone was leaving the town.

Panic-stricken people, many of them carrying luggage on their heads, walked as far away as Sehore, 40 km away. The exodus continues throughout the night.

The leakage of the MIC gas tank, which is reported to have a capacity of 15,000 gallons, could not be plugged by the Union Carbide engineers and they had to take the help of BHEL experts.

The plant’s Works Manager, Mr. J Mukund, told newsmen at the plant site that no casualty occurred in the plant. However, some employees involved in the safety operations were injured.

This is inexplicable because most of those who suffocated to death lived in a radius of 5 km of the factory premises. Experts say that having failed to plug the leakage, the Union Carbide technicians must have blasted out the gas from their premises and used other safety methods, not available to the unfortunate people living outside the factory.

The Chief Minister, Mr Arjun Singh, told newsmen that the government had ordered a judicial inquiry into “the most painful and worst tragedy in the history of Madhya Pradesh.”

Meanwhile, the police on Monday arrested five officers of the Union Carbide in connection with the gas leakage tragedy.

According to official sources, the arrested were the Works Manager, Mr Mukund, the Assistant Works Manager, Mr R.B. Raichoudhury, the Production Manager, Mr S.P. Choudhary, the Plant Supervisor, Mr K.V. Shetty and the Supervisor Mr Shakeel Qureshi.

The district magistrate has ordered closure of the factory till further orders. “The factory would not be able to restart production from this site,” Mr Arjun Singh said.

He appealed to all to cooperate and not to allow rumours to spread. There was now no leakage of gas from the factory and the situation was fully under control, he said.

He also announced the 13-day state mourning for the unfortunate victims of the killer gas. “The entire state will share Bhopal’s sorrow,” he said.

A team of CBI experts, the chief minister announced, had reached Bhopal and the chemical advisor of the Union Chemicals and Petroleum Ministry was also coming.

Mr Singh said the state government was examining the legal possibility of suing the Union Carbide for damages on behalf of the affected people.

All government offices and institutions in Madhya Pradesh will remain closed on December 4 as a mark of respect to the victims of the gas leakage tragedy. State mourning will be observed that day and the national flag on all government buildings will be flown at half-mast.

The entire town observed a spontaneous bandh on Monday to mourn the tragedy. Except chemist shops every single commercial establishment, offices, schools and colleges were closed in Bhopal.

The drinking water in Bhopal city is quite safe and unaffected by leaked poisonous gas, it was officially announced here on Monday night.

Indian Express, 4 December 1984

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