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February 18, 2020

Keamari toxic gas leakage: Three more die as toll reaches eight

Top Story

February 18, 2020

A man is wearing mask to protect himself from the toxic gas. Online

KARACHI: Health and environment authorities investigating the lethal gas leakage in Keamari on Monday suspected that Hydrogen Sulphide, a highly poisonous gas that is a byproduct of crude oil and also generates in sewerage system, could be the probable cause of gas poisoning in the Railway Colony in the vicinity of Keamari on Sunday and Monday nights that killed eight people and hospitalised over 130 people.

Dozens of people were moved again to public and private hospitals on Monday night at around 9pm when people once again claimed itching in eyes, problems in breathing and tightness in chest while Sindh health department officials confirmed that at least one person had died due to suspected gas poisoning on Monday night at a private hospital in the city, who was brought from the Keamari area. Overall, three more deaths occurred on Monday.

“Hydrogen Sulphide could be the probable cause of gas poisoning in the Keamari area of the city adjacent to Karachi port where some have unfortunately died and dozens were hospitalized on Sunday night. So far, our investigation is inconclusive but our teams are working on it and we have also sought professional assistance from a private firm to help in the investigation," Sindh Adviser on Environment Barrister Murtaza Wahab told The News on Monday.

The Sindh government officials claimed that the provincial environmental watchdog, the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), was not allowed to monitor facilities at the Karachi Port, which is managed by the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and Pakistan Navy as these authorities believe they are only governed by the federal environmental laws.

An atmosphere of fear and panic had gripped the entire Keamari area on Monday where people including children were seen wearing face masks, which are ineffective against poisonous gasses, while many people said they had moved their families, including women and children, to other city areas away from the port to protect them from the deadly toxic gas, which could be felt in the air even on Monday afternoon.

A team of investigators from the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) had rushed to the Keamari area near Karachi Port after people from its Massan Road and Railway Colony complained of burning and irritation in eyes, cough with problems in breathing and cramps in abdomen on Sunday night, who were rushed to the Ziauddin Hospital in Keamari as well as the KPT Hospital in the area.

Till the filing of this report, there were reports of at least six deaths due to gas poisoning in the Keamari area while over 130 people were affected due to gas inhalation who were taken to various city hospitals, including Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC), Karachi, Civil Hospital, Karachi, and some private hospitals in the District South, officials said.

Adviser on Environment Barrister Murtaza Wahab said their investigators were suspecting Hydrogen Sulphide poisoning in the Keamari area and added that some ‘crude oil facilities’ adjacent to the Railway Colony could be the probable source of gas poisoning but added that investigations were still underway and non-conclusive at the moment.

"We have summoned the officials of some of the companies who have installations in the area from where gas poisoning was reported. We have also involved some private firms having expertise in such incidents," Murtaza Wahab said and added that at the moment, they don’t see any need for mass evacuation of the people from the affected area.

Sindh Health Secretary Zahid Abbassi visited the Ziauddin Hospital on Monday and announced that the Sindh government would bear the expenses of all the people who were hospitalized due to gas inhalation and poisoning in the Keamari area of the city.

There was so much fear of poisonous gas leakage that employees of Customs House at Tower evacuated their offices on Monday morning after complaining of gas inhalation but the federal authorities said the building was cleared by experts who inspected the building and declared it safe.

It was learnt that a team of Pakistan Navy’s Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defense (NBCD) was also conducting an investigation into the possible source of toxic gas leakage in the port area, federal authorities said but no findings of any kind were shared with the people through the media by the authorities.

Chairman KPT Rear Admiral (retd) Jamil Akhtar also held a news conference on Monday and said neither any oil vessel nor any facility at the port could be blamed for the poisonous gas leakage, saying the media should avoid speculations and wait for the outcome of the investigations.

On the other hand, people affected with toxic gas were still being taken to public and private hospitals till the filing of this report on Monday night as officials of the JPMC and Ziauddin Hospital in Clifton said they had received dozens of people with symptoms of gas poisoning while Sindh health department officials said at least one more person had died due to suspected gas poisoning on Monday night.

Police on Monday registered an FIR No143/20 under sections 322, 284 and 337-A against unidentified persons. The case was registered at the Jackson Police Station on behalf of the State. Jackson SHO Malik Adil, while confirming the registration of the FIR, said that a total five people, including three women, had lost their lives while 63 others, including women and children, were affected due to the mysterious poisonous gas. “We did not name anyone in the FIR as it is yet to become clear from where the poisonous gas spread as different departments are trying to ascertain it,” the officer explained. The officer said that the postmortems of the deceased persons were not conducted; however, doctors have taken samples from the deceased persons for chemical examination to ascertain the cause of death. Police said that the body of a woman, Musarrat Yasmin, was sent to her hometown Rawalpindi for burial while others were laid to rest in separate graveyards in Karachi. A young man, Muhammad Ahsan, who was the son of Counter Terrorism Department’s officer Omar Farooq, was also among the people killed. He was a resident of Docks Colony and was doing BCS at a private university in Karachi.

Meanwhile, due to the toxic gas leakage, majority of public and private schools remained closed in Keamari Town and some parts of the District South Karachi, including Machar Colony, Clifton, Tower, City Railway Colony, and other coastal areas situated near the Karachi Port on Monday.

The decision was taken by the administrators of schools to avoid any unwanted incidents and keep the children safe.