Ludhiana gas leak: ‘I found my brother lying on the road’
Family members of the victims of a toxic gas leak in the northern Indian state of Punjab are reeling from their loss.
The leak occurred on Sunday morning in the city of Ludhiana, leaving 11 people dead and four in hospital. The area was sealed off and residents were evacuated after many people reported breathing difficulties.
The cause of the leak has not been officially confirmed yet but reports say that high levels of hydrogen sulphide gas were detected in the area. A district official had said on Sunday that a chemical may have reacted with methane in manholes to produce the deadly vapour.
A team from the National Disaster Response Fund is investigating the source of the gas leakage.
“My cousin’s entire family was killed,” says Kapil Kumar, who lived in the neighbourhood where the leak took place. “There were five people living in the house. Now there is no one left.”
Reports say the area was densely populated and also had several shops – a cold drink store, a grocery store and a medical clinic – visited by many people.
Kapil Kumar’s cousin Bilas Kumar lived near the grocery store. Bilas Kumar, his wife Varsa Devi, and their three children all died due to gas inhalation, he says.
When the smell of the gas began to spread early on Sunday morning, residents stepped outside their houses to check where it was coming from.
“I thought it had rained yesterday, so the smell was related to that. But then the stench increased,” says Shivam Singh, a resident. “I looked outside and saw that people had fallen to the ground. The smell of the gas was very strong. A cat had also died [on the street].”
Mr Singh’s video, which showed several people lying unconscious on the road, was widely shared on social media. “It is an area with factories, so there is a crowd here every day. But there were fewer people yesterday because it was a Sunday.”
Arvind Chaubey, who had stepped out in the morning to play cricket, says he covered his face with a cloth when he suspected there had been a gas leak and moved away from the area.
“I moved a little further away and called the police and the ambulance,” he said.
Many people around him were struggling to breathe because of the gas, he says.
Ajay Gupta, who lives in Jalandhar city, says that his sister Preeti had called him at 6.30am on Sunday to wish him on his wedding anniversary. “An hour later, I got a phone call about her death,” he says.
“My brother-in-law had a milk and grocery business,” Mr Gupta says. “They all ran outside when the gas leaked.”
His sister’s husband and mother-in-law also died.
Ashwani Kumar says he rushed to the spot after a neighbour called him.
“My brother Navneet Kumar and sister-in-law Neetu Devi were lying on the road [when I got there],” he says. “Both died but their 17-year-old daughter and one of my brothers survived.”
His surviving brother is still being treated at the hospital.
The Punjab government has announced a compensation of 200,000 rupees ($2,445; £1,945.6) to the relatives of the victims and 50,000 rupees to the injured.
But a distraught Mr Gupta says that the compensation “does not matter”.
“My family is gone,” he says.