14 killed as gas pipeline blast sparks inferno

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At least 14 people were killed when a state-owned gas pipeline exploded in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh yesterday.

The blast sparked a massive fire which destroyed homes and forced the evacuation of neighbouring villages.

Vandana Chanana, a top official of the state-run Gas Authority of India Ltd (Gail), said 14 people died and 15 others were injured in the blaze following the explosion in Nagaram village in the state’s East Godavari district.

“The fire has been extinguished now and rescue operations are on,” he said.

The injured were taken to nearby hospitals where doctors said the condition of at least six of them was critical.

Andhra Pradesh home minister N Chinna Rajappa said the explosion happened at 5.30am at the site of a connecting station for the gas company.

It sent flames shooting up into the pre-dawn sky. The fire burned for more than three hours before it was brought under control, Mr Rajappa said.

Company officials said it was too early to say what could have caused the blast, and, in New Delhi, Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan told reporters that the federal government had set up a panel to investigate the explosion.

Nagaram residents said they had complained about the lack of maintenance of the gas pipelines, but their complaints were ignored.

“People are angry that Gail authorities didn’t pay heed when they complained that the pipes had become rusty,” said Andhra Pradesh finance minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu.

Witnesses said flames rose more than 80ft (25m) into the air, scorching the tops of coconut and palm trees. Scores of houses and shops were gutted.

Two weeks ago, six people were killed and 29 others injured in an explosion and a subsequent gas pipeline leak at India’s biggest government-run steel plant in Chattisgarh.