By BISWAJEET BANERJEE , 05.01.2006, 09:37 AM
A sodium tank exploded at a paper factory in northern India on Monday, sparking a blaze that killed at least nine nightshift workers and trapped hundreds more, police said. One official said 15 people were killed.
At least 50 people were injured in the blast and fire at the factory in Udham Singh Nagar in Uttaranchal state, police official Amit Kumar Sinha said. They were taken to local hospitals, he said.
"The blast took place in the factory when hundreds of workers were working in the evening shift. The whole area caught fire after the blast," Sinha said by telephone. "So far, nine bodies have been recovered. The toll may go up."
State government spokesman Amit Chandola said 15 people had died.
The town is about 245 miles northwest of the region’s largest city, Lucknow, capital of the neighboring Uttar Pradesh state.
Sinha said the blast occurred in the sodium tank of a private paper factory, and firefighters and volunteers were trying to rescue the trapped workers.
Local lawmaker Harbhajan Singh Cheema said the explosion was heard miles away.
"It could be heard 5 kilometers (3.125 miles) away. Immediately afterward, the warehouse and factory caught fire," he said. "The situation here is bad the relatives of the workers have reached the site and are crying."
Chief Minister Narayan Dutt Tiwari, the state’s top elected official, had ordered an inquiry into the blast, the government statement said.
Hundreds of people die each year in India in industrial accidents. Health, safety and pollution control measures are lax at most small-scale industrial units, and government inspectors often are bribed to prevent penalties.