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5 die in Khanna factory inferno; 16 hurt
Mohit Khanna & Gurminder Singh Grewal/TNS

The deceased

  • The deceased have been identified as Chottu (17), Bhagi Rath and Davinder. Two of the bodies have been burnt beyond recognitions
  • The 16 injured are: Pawan, Kundan, Gurbachan, Janardhan, Umesh, Manohar, Gobind, Ravi, Rajinder Mondal, Mohd Adarsh, Kake Singh, Anil and Manu Singh (Uttar Pradesh); Manjit Singh and Gurnaib Singh (Nangal); and Chaman Lal (Himachal Pradesh)

Khanna, September 12
Five factory workers were charred to death and 16 critically injured in an explosion caused by a gas leak at a factory in Khanna town of Ludhiana district. Around 300 men and 70 fire tenders battled the blaze for over 12 hours and finally extinguished it at noon on Wednesday.

Tragedy struck at Sanjiv Agro Solvent Plant in Khanna’s Focal Point area around 11.45 pm on Tuesday when nearly 22 workers were on the night shift. Eyewitnesses said a blast occurred in the boiler unit and caused a fire.

The fire spread to the area around the godowns where rice bran and coal were stored, both highly inflammable. Three trucks parked there were reduced to ash.

Workers called up the fire department which reached the spot around 12.30 am. Khanna Fire Officer Yashpal, who was among the first to reach the factory with his team of 40, said the flames were over 30 feet high.

“I have never seen such flames. The smell of hexane was thick in the air causing nausea. The burning of rice bran and coal added to the heat,” he said. Some firefighters also suffered burn injuries.

A total of 70 firefighting vehicles were pressed into service, including some from nearby Gobindgarh, Samrala, Amloh and Rajpura. The Fire Officer said they were able to contain the fire or it could have led to massive damage in the industrial area. “Even scorched trees and plants growing across the road near the factory premises,” said Yashpal.

As per preliminary investigation, the explosion in the boiler and subsequent fire was caused due a hexane gas leak, Khanna SDM PS Sodhi said. However, Satbir Singh, Director, Boilers, ruled out that the incident took place due to the boiler blast. He said a flash fire took place after the leak of hexane gas.

Sanjiv Agro Solvent Plant manufactures edible vegetable oil that is extracted with the use of hexane. “Hexane gas, rice bran and coal proved to be a fatal combination. All three elements are highly inflammable and led to the massive fire,” said Khanna SDM PS Sodhi.

Sources said a huge quantity of hexane gas was in the containers when the accident took place, further fuelling the blaze. The absence of firefighting equipment also compounded damage.

Anil Kumar, the lone worker to have sustained minor injuries, said there was first a gas leak followed by an explosion. He was in the area around the godowns when he heard the explosion and scaled the wall. “There was inadequate fire safety equipment in the factory. The tragedy could have been averted...” Sanjiv Agro Solvent Plant owner Naval Aggarwal refused to comment on the lack of fire safety measures. “I have been running the factory for 20 years. No such incident has ever taken place in the factory. I am in deep shock. My dream project has gone up in smoke,” he said.

Ludhiana Deputy Commissioner Rahul Tiwari has ordered a magisterial probe into the incident and promised action against those found guilty. SDM PS Sodhi would submit his report in a week. The Director, Boilers, from Jalandhar and a forensic team from Chandigarh would also probe the incident.

The CM has announced Rs 2 lakh compensation for the deceased and offered free treatment for the injured. The injured were first rushed to Rajindra Hospital, Patiala, and from there they were further referred to PGI, Chandigarh.




‘I can still hear the screams…’
Mohit Khanna & Ritika Jha/TNS

Khanna/Chandigarh, Sept 12
Gurbax Singh, a veteran firefighter, was among the first to reach Sanjiv Agro Solvent Plant a little after midnight on Tuesday. The factory’s main gate was locked from inside and flames were bursting out of it. Years of firefighting experience could not prepare him for what he saw.

“We scaled the gate and entered the factory. The workers were screaming in pain and panic. It was a gory sight. Some bodies were badly melted; the upper portion of one worker was ripped off due to the high-intensity explosion,” he says.

Rajesh Kumar, who works in a nearby solvent plant, was jolted by the explosion a little before midnight on Tuesday. “I have never before seen such flames. The wind was leading the flames towards our factory unit. We evacuated the unit and ran to a safe distance, he says. For a few minutes, it looked as if the fire would engulf the entire Focal Point area, but the firefighters came to our rescue,” he says.

Pyare Lal, who also works at a unit nearby, could not sleep all night after what he saw at the Sanjiv Agro Solvent Plant. “The roof of both the blocks was ripped off due to the explosion. I could hear people crying in pain and shouting for help from inside the factory.

I was terrified and could not muster the courage to save them. I can still hear the screams…” he says.

Sanjiv Agro Solvent Plant workers Bittu, Udan and Ramesh were sleeping in their house nearby when they heard a loud blast. By the time they came out of their house, they heard another blast. Half of the factory had collapsed and was in flames.

"We tried calling up all the officers on the numbers we had. Only one of them answered the phone. He also reached after more than one hour," said a worker who accompanied the injured to the PGI at Chandigarh.





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