Hyderabad, Aug 21 (PTI) A major fire broke out in the Srisailam hydroelectric power plant located on the Telangana side of the border with Andhra Pradesh leaving nine people dead, most of them engineers, and three seriously injured, officials said on Friday.
A woman was among the dead as thick smoke hampered rescue operations for over 12 hours after the fire broke out in the electric panels of the underground powerhouse at 10.30 PM on Thursday. Seventeen people were at the plant at the time of the accident of whom eight managed to escape.
The victims who were trapped inside perished while trying their best to put out the fire and save the power plant from being burnt completely, officials said.
The Srisailam Left Bank Hydel Power Station (SLBHP), about 200 km from Hyderabad, is on the Telangana side of the Srisailam reservoir on Krishna river--a joint irrigation project between the two Telugu states. The plant is located 125 metres under the ground in a long tunnel which has only one entry and exit point.
Power generation was in full swing following incessant rains during the past few days, officials said, adding, it has since been suspended. The power station has six units with a combined capacity of 900 MW (6X150).
'The accident happened when a sudden fire broke out in the electric panels. Employees, who sensed danger, made all efforts to extinguish the fire. The entrapped employees tried to save the plant from catching fire without even caring for their lives.
'It appears that the employees continued their efforts until 12 o'clock at night (Thursday),' the Telangana State Power Generation Corporation (GENCO) said in a statement.
Telangana Energy Minister G Jagadish Reddy said the fire broke out late on Thursday night when 17 people were inside the plant.
Eight of the employees managed to come out, he said.
Thick smoke engulfing the area hampered immediate rescue operations, the minister said.
'A total of 17 employees were at the plant at the time of the accident. Eight of them were able to come out. But the remaining nine (seven GENCO employees, including a woman, and two private firm employees) who were trapped right there were tragically killed.
'They tried to save the plant till their last breath,' Reddy told reporters at the accident site.
All the deceased appeared to have died due to asphyxiation though there were minor burns on their bodies, a senior official of GENCO told PTI.
The seven victims belonging to GENCO included a deputy engineer and four assistant engineers. Two other victims were employed with a private firm engaged in battery maintenance at the plant.
Reddy said the employees who were trapped inside took videos of the fire through their mobile phones and posted the visuals to explain the situation to authorities outside.
A Fire Department official based on a preliminary assessment said the blaze started in the battery area apparently due to 'over voltage', which needs to be established after a thorough investigation.
Three employees who were seriously injured are undergoing treatment, according to the GENCO statement.
'We heard sounds...we saw flames and tried to put off the fire. But, we were unable to do so due to the smoke,' one of the survivors, undergoing treatment at a hospital, told a TV news channel He said they could not rescue the nine who were trapped inside the powerhouse due to thick smoke.
Another survivor said the staff tried to douse the flames by using five to six fire extinguishers for about half-an-hour but failed.
All the bodies were shifted to a local hospital for post-mortem.
Expressing grief over the tragedy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, 'Fire at the Srisailam hydroelectric plant is deeply unfortunate.' 'My thoughts are with the bereaved families. I hope those injured recover at the earliest,' he said.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao ordered an inquiry by the state CID.
Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar issued orders appointing additional DGP Govind Singh as inquiry officer, a press release from Rao's office said.
Though the fire was brought under control, thick smoke engulfed the underground area of the powerhouse making the rescue operations difficult, officials said.
Nagarkurnool district Collector L Sharman said five fire engines were engaged in extinguishing the flames but thick smoke emanating from the plant's premises hampered rescue operations for over 12 hours. The rescuers could not proceed into the tunnel of the plant until 12 noon on Friday.
Besides NDRF, CISF personnel also joined the state rescue teams.
Chief Minister Rao announced Rs 50 lakh ex gratia to Deputy Engineer Srinivas Goud’s family and Rs 25 lakh each to the kin of other victims. He also announced one job each to the families of the deceased, besides other departmental benefits, an official release said. PTI GDK VVK SA BN GSN GSN GSN