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Gas leak death toll mounts amid confusion over source

KARACHI: As per sources, the death toll from the leak rose to 14, recently. With many persons hospitalised since the leak was first noticed, the people of the affected areas took to the streets, accusing the administration of paying only lip service over the grave issues involved.

After a brief respite earlier, the situation began deteriorating again when a number of people, including women and children, were rushed to private and government hospitals. This exercise continued till sunrise. Finally in the evening, the Sindh health ministry came up with the latest casualty figures.

“To conclude the report, 14 patients expired,” said the special health secretary in his report to Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah.

It is pertinent to mention that 258 patients were examined and 232 were discharged after treatment and 12 patients are under observation in relevant hospitals. The specimens of the patients were collected and sent to Agha Khan University Hospital and International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) for further investigation and analytical study.

Efforts to determine the cause or even the exact place of gas leak failed to throw up anything conclusive.

The International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences at the University of Karachi suspected that ‘soya bean dust (aeroallergens)’ was behind the problem. However, a study conducted by a private laboratory assisting the Sindh environment authorities spoke of high levels of hydrogen sulfide and nitric oxide in the air.

Amid confusing statements from different agencies, the people of Kemari, including the Railway Colony, Sikandarabad, Jackson Market and Masaan Road, continued to suffer as the authorities only promised to evacuate them without proper planning and arrangements on the ground.

The situation sparked a protest when hundreds of Kemari residents took to the streets and blocked the main road, suspending traffic to and from the Karachi Port Trust premises.

The situation arising out of the protest took more than three hours to normalise and the people dispersed after the administration made several promises. But panic and fear didn’t go away.

A majority of the schools in the affected areas and neighbouring blocks announced a holiday for the rest of the week and the state-run oil marketing company decided to suspend operations at its oil terminal in Kemari.

Chief Minister Shah acknowledged that authorities had been unable to determine the cause of the toxic gas leak, which he said had not spread to other parts of the city. He called it a ‘mystery’, but insisted that all institutions concerned were involved in efforts to unearth the cause of the incident.

Meanwhile, traders have rejected the report which blamed consignments of soya bean as cause of the toxic air. They claimed to have met all quality checks defined under the law and said the consignment was believed to be of highest quality.

-MN Report

February 19, 2020

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