Three people have died and 14 people are injured, three of them seriously, after a powerful blast followed by a massive fire ripped through a private chemical manufacturing company on Thursday night in Maharashtra's Palghar, about 150 km from Mumbai.
Palghar Control police official Pramod Pawar said the blast took place around 11.15 pm in the chemical company's plant.
"The blast, cause of which is not yet clear was so deafening that it was heard in a radius of 10 km, and houses and buildings were shaken," Mr Pawar told news agency IANS.
The first blast occurred in Novaphene Specialties Private Limited in E-107 unit of Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation at around 11.10 p.m. on Thursday.
Workers in neighbouring factories claim several labourers were working in the factory where the blast occurred at night. Fire officials claim they will wait for fire to die out in its own before conducting cooling operations. The search operations for suspected labourers who may be trapped inside will start after that.
Fire engines were rushed to the spot and firefighting operation is on.
The blast is suspected to have occurred in a boiler room of Ramedeo Chemicals's plant and efforts were on to douse the fire in the factory precincts.
The fire has spread to other companies adjacent to the company, Manjunath Singe, Superintendent of Police, Palghar told news agency PTI. There are chemical drums inside these companies, due to which the fire is spreading, he said.
Tarapur Automic Power Station, which is also situated on Boisar-Tarapur Road is around 20 km away from the spot, he added.
Local eyewitnesses said that the explosion, "sounding like a huge bomb" happened when many were preparing to retire for the night.
The factory manufactures speciality chemicals and cosmetic preservatives dealing in high purity acid and acid anhydrides. It also owns a manufacturing unit in Dahisar. From Novaphene, the fire spread to adjoining factories— Aarti Drugs, Prachi Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd, Bharat Vasayan and Unimax. Prachi Ltd is an iodine salt manufacturer, while Aarti Drugs manufactures vitamins and antibiotics. Aarti Drug’s staffer Sunil Yadav said he heard a loud explosion while he was working at night.
“After the explosion, there was a lot of smoke everywhere and the electricity got cut. The entire building shook and everything fell around us. Around eight labourers with me ran out of the factory,” he said. Yadav, a native of Madhya Pradesh, sustained a head injury. According to fire officials, 11 fire tankers were rushed to the spot. “The fire was too big to control. It quickly spread to nearby factories. All precautionary measures are currently in place,” Palghar police superintendent Manjunath Singhe told The Indian Express.
Locals claim at least 22 tankers, of varying capacity between 100-200 liters, burst due to the fire in all the factories. At least two injured remain in critical condition. Prima facie, it appears that the boiler blast in Novaphene occurred due to irregular storage of solvent, district collector Prashant Narnawre said. There are around 1,100 chemical plants and additional 400-500 other factories in MIDC Tarapur.
A Boisar police station official said, “The blast was so massive, windows in police station shattered. I was in my house, which is five km from the spot and our window panes started shaking by the impact.” Those injured were rushed to Thunga, Sanjeevani, Vikas, Anand and government rural hospital in Palghar.
The collector added that aid was asked for controlling the fire from Vasai-Virar Municipal corporation, Tarapur Atomic Plant and Reliance thermal power station.
However, scared and shaken by the explosion, many feared it was an earthquake and hundreds rushed out on to the streets and sat there.