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HPCL refinery blast triggers panic; no casualty

Accidents are not new to HPCL as the refinery hit the headlines on a few occasions before this

HPCL refinery blast triggers panic; no casualty

HPCL refinery blast triggers panic; no casualty

Visakhapatnam TENSION gripped the industrial areas of Visakhapatnam following a huge blast and fire at the HPCL Visakh Refinery here on Tuesday.

People in Malkapuram, Sriharipuram and other areas in the vicinity where the refinery is located ran helter-skelter hearing deafening sound from the refinery after fire and smoke billowed out of the Crude Distillation Unit-3, the largest CDU in the compound, in the afternoon.

Residents of the area confirmed hearing sounds of three explosions in quick succession. The refinery management also sounded a siren and fire brigades from Navy, District Fire Office and nearby industries were rushed to the refinery to extinguish the fire. The fire was reportedly brought under control after fighting for several hours.

Informed sources said no casualties were reported. The officials of HPCL remained incommunicado as several calls to the company spokesman remained unanswered. When contacted, corporator and CPI (M) city unit secretary M Ganga Rao told Bizz Buzz that the blast occurred following a fire at CDU-3. He blamed the management for neglecting safety precautions at the refinery.

A handful of people were present at CDU-3, which purifies crude before it is refined for supply to consumers as per environmental standards prescribed by the authorities.

The Visakh Refinery Modernisation Project is now under implementation to expand capacity from 8.33 million tonne to 15 million tonne at a cost of Rs 20,928 crore.

Accidents are not new to HPCL as the refinery hit the headlines when vapour cloud blast led to killing of 56 people in 1997. The refinery was in news again for another major accident when the oxygen tower collapsed in 2013 claiming 27 lives. CDU-3 also had a huge fire on May 16, 2013 though it did not claim any lives.

K Subba Rao, a retired bank employee and resident of Malkapuram said on hearing the deafening sound, he and his family went to the terrace and saw thick smoke billowing out of the refinery. "It was a horrifying scene reminding us of the nightmarish experience of 1997 and 2013 blasts and 2019 gas leak at South Korea's Hindustan Polymers. The refinery was shut down for two months after the 1997 blast.

Though after every fatal accident enquiries are ordered, the recommendations of the committees are not being kept on public domain.

Forum for Development of North Andhra general secretary A Ajay Sarma said the promise for third party social audit before commissioning a new facility and periodical inspections to review safety apparatus have remained only on the paper.

Santosh Patnaik
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