At least 20 people were killed and more than 80 injured in a boiler explosion at a unit of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) in Uttar Pradesh's Rae Bareli district, officials said.
Many of the injured are in critical condition with scalded body parts caused by hot ash and steam. They have been admitted to government medical facilities at Allahabad and at the Lucknow trauma centre.
Confirming the death toll, Principal Secretary, Home, Arvind Kumar said of the 10 injured brought to the civil hospital here, six have more than 90 percent burns and that their condition, according to doctors, was very critical.A
Additional Director General of Police (ADG) Law and Order Anand Kumar said the death toll could climb up as many of the injured are in critical condition.
An NDRF team consisting of 32 persons has left Lucknow for Unchahar, the site of the accident.
Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya visited the Civil hospital at night to inquire about the injured and asked the doctors to give them the best possible treatment.
Two senior ministers - Suresh Khanna and Swamy Prasad Maurya - have been rushed to the site to oversee and coordinate relief and rescue operations, a government official said.
NTPC officials said that the number of casualties could go up once the blades of the boiler are cut and the team of experts is able to go inside. NTPC has ordered a probe into the blast.
More than 50 fire tenders were pressed into service to douse the fire and 100 ambulances, private and government, helped ferry the injured to medical facilities. Rae Bareli is the parliamentary constituency of Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
A massive fire broke out inside and a huge ball of dust and ash rose after the explosion, making rescue operations difficult, an official told IANS. The unit was the sixth at NTPC and was commissioned on March 31 this year.
An alert was sounded at the community health centre (CHC), district hospital and at other medical centres, after the accident. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who is in Mauritius on a three-day visit, directed Principal Secretary, Home, Arvind Kumar to monitor the situation and brief him regularly. He has also condoled the death of workers and extended his sympathies to the bereaved families.
The Chief Minister has announced ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the families of those killed, Rs 50,000 each to those seriously injured, and Rs 25,000 each to those with less grave injuries. All the injured would be given free treatment at government hospitals, he added.
Senior district officials and police officials including the Divisional Commissioner of Lucknow Anil Garg were at the site and overseeing rescue and relief operations.
Officials said the explosion took place in the boiler, which creates steam which moves the turbines and generates electricity. The explosion was caused by the ash which got deposited on the furnace and triggered a massive blast.
Insiders at the plant, who refused to come on record, said that many labourers who were inside might have perished in the blast and their bodies would be buried under the very hot ash that has covered the entire area.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi expressed shock and horror at the tragedy and asked party workers to help in the relief operations. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also expressed sadness and condoled the deaths.