Residents gather with the bodies of victims of a gas leak as they protest in front of an LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh state on May 9. They want the plant to be shut down or moved out of their area. (Photo: STR/AFP)
Life is returning to normal in the area of southern India where a poisonous gas leak last week killed 11 people, but worries about people's safety continue, according to Catholic officials.
Some 250 people, including 30 Catholics, were hospitalized after poisonous styrene gas leaked from the South Korean-owned LG Polymers plastic manufacturing plant in Visakhapatnam city on May 7.
"There is fear among the people about their safety, and therefore it will take some time for them to return to their homes in the most affected areas," Archbishop Prakash Mallavarapu of Visakhapatnam, which covers the area of the disaster in Andhra Pradesh state, told UCA News a day after the accident.
He said the government would have to convince them that they are safe in their homes.
Father Balshorry Saragadom, the priest of St. Thomas parish, said the leak happened at around 2.30am when people were fast asleep. "Many got up from their sleep with breathing troubles, not knowing what exactly happened," he said.
Most dead were those living within half a kilometer of the factory. However, people within a radius of five kilometers suffered breathing difficulty, headache and giddiness, the priest told UCA News.
However, no deaths have been reported from hospitals.
Many people, including some of Father Saragadom's parishioners, "ran away to at least 10 kilometers' distance to save their lives from the emerging fog-like poisonous gas."
Most Catholic parishioners took shelter in their parish church, about three kilometers away from the factory. The impact of the leak was not great in the church's area, although complaints of its severity came from even five kilometers away.
Authorities have moved people from five villages in the vicinity of the factory to safer places. Many, including Catholic families, have moved to their relatives' houses for safety.
Catholics who took shelter in the parish church have returned to their homes after authorities said the effect of the gas had been nullified.
The LG Polymers factory, which started in 1961, manufactures polystyrene, a versatile plastic used to make a wide variety of consumer products such as toys and appliances.
Father Varghese Chaprat, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Visakhapatnam, said the gas leak killed not just humans but also animals. There were carcasses of buffalos, dogs and birds on the roads, he told UCA News on May 8.
Visakhapatnam is a city of about three million people. Some victims and rights groups protested to demand the closure of the factory two days after the accident.
Some 300 people protested, placing the bodies of three gas victims at the gate of the factory. They demanded to close down the factory. The also wanted shouted slogans seeking the arrest of the management, accused of criminal negligence.
The government cordoned off the affected area and restricted the movement of the public soon after the accident. "We could not send our priests or volunteers to help those affected," Archbishop Mallavarapu said.