A massive explosion on a state-owned gas pipeline running through the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh yesterday killed at least 16 people and gutted scores of homes, a state minister said.
"At least 16 people are dead. We have recovered 13 bodies so far," state home minister N. Chinna Rajappa said after the blast near a refinery in the East Godavari district.
Television pictures showed flames at least 10 metres high leaping into the dawn sky, scorching trees and burning flimsy huts in the coastal area.
The fire on the 45cm pipeline owned by the Gas Authority of India Limited (Gail) was extinguished by mid-morning and the gas cut off, an official said.
At least 15 people were taken to hospital with injuries from the pre-dawn explosion, the company said, while the cause of the blast was not yet known.
"We are currently focused on rescue and relief operations," Gail chairman BC Tripathi was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency. Gail is the country's largest state-owned natural-gas processing and distribution company and the damaged pipeline is used to transport pressurised natural gas for a power plant.
The Times of India newspaper said villagers had complained of negligence as the pipeline had become rusty, while other reports said a stove in the area might have ignited gas that had leaked from the structure.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he had asked the petroleum minister and other senior officers to ensure immediate relief at the accident site. "My thoughts with the families of those who lost their lives in the Gail pipeline fire. Prayers with the injured," he tweeted.
Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who rushed to the site of the explosion, said an investigation had begun. The Andhra Pradesh government also ordered an inquiry.
Yesterday's incident was the most deadly to hit India's energy sector since last August, when 28 people were killed in a fire at an oil refinery in nearby Vishakhapatnam, which is the largest city in Andhra Pradesh.