October 9, 2018 / 8:35 AM / 9 days ago

Gas pipeline fire at SAIL's central Indian steel plant kills at least nine

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A fire on Tuesday in a natural gas pipeline at a smelting plant owned by Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) in the central state of Chhattisgarh killed at least nine people, the company said.

Hospital staff, surrounded by police, remove injured victims from an ambulance after a blast at state-run SAIL's steel plant in Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, India October 9, 2018 in this still image from video provided by Reuters TV. ANI News via REUTERS

Television images shot by Reuters partner ANI showed gray-brown smoke billowing out of SAIL’s Bhilai Steel Plant, with workers being rushed out of ambulances in stretchers into a crowded, noisy hospital.

“Nine persons have lost their lives and 14 are undergoing medical treatment,” state-run SAIL, one of India’s biggest steel producers, said in a statement.

Vehicles wait at the entrance gate of state-run SAIL's steel plant in Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, India October 9, 2018 in this still image from video provided by Reuters TV. ANI News via REUTERS

The fire, which occurred during scheduled maintenance, has now been controlled, SAIL said. There was no immediate comment from the company on whether production was affected.

A SAIL spokesman said this was the first fatal accident at the plant, adding that there could be a minor impact on production. He did not provide additional details.

The Bhilai Plant is India’s sole producer and supplier of rails for Indian Railways, and a major producer of a large variety of wide and heavy steel plates and structural steel, according to the company’s website.

SAIL failed to meet its target to supply rails for Indian Railways for the third straight year in 2017/18, underscoring the problems of modernizing the country’s rail network which came under scrutiny after a spate of accidents last year.

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The plant has annual steel production capacity of 3.153 million tonnes, with products including wire rods, according to SAIL.

SAIL shares fell as much as 4.2 percent to their lowest since Oct. 25 on the news, before recovering to settle 1.5 percent lower at 63.55 rupees.

The incident comes less than a year after a deadly blast killed 45 people at a coal-fired power plant run by state-run NTPC Ltd, raising questions about the safety of industrial workers in the country.

India, on an average, witnessed one death in a coal mine every six days in 2017, according to data provided by India’s Coal Minister Piyush Goyal to lawmakers, making it one of the most dangerous countries to be a coal miner.

Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan and Nidhi Verma; Editing by Manolo Serapio Jr. and Christian Schmollinger

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