KARACHI: Private guards wearing face masks pictured on Monday outside the hospital where victims of toxic gas leak are being treated.—AP
KARACHI: Private guards wearing face masks pictured on Monday outside the hospital where victims of toxic gas leak are being treated.—AP

KARACHI: As authorities on Monday launched multiple probes to ascertain what exactly had caused the gas leak in the city’s Keamari area on Sunday night that left seven people dead and many others hospitalised, the provincial government swung into action, issuing orders for evacuation of people from affected localities.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah issued the evacuation directives on Monday while chairing an emergency meeting at CM House after visiting the affected areas.

The CM regretted that bad smell was not receding and people were being still affected.

“Smell is spreading on account of wind direction,” said Mr Shah at the meeting, according to a press release. He said all marriage halls in safe places should be used to house the affected people there.

Besides, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed grief over the loss of precious lives in the incident.

KPT denies gas leaked from port; death toll rises to seven

In a related development, the Sindh cabinet, according to TV reports, postponed its meeting scheduled for Tuesday, apparently to pay undivided attention to the issue. The cabinet will now meet on Wednesday.

While police have sought help of experts from Karachi University and other departments to clear the affected area and its air, the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) chairman said that Pakistan Navy was also looking into the incident and a team had taken samples from the affected areas.

In the evening, the Jackson police registered an FIR on behalf of the state against unknown persons under Sections 284 (negligent conduct with respect to poisonous substance), 321 (manslaughter) and 337-J (causing hurt by means of a poison) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Rescue and police said seven people, including three women, had lost their lives.

According to the police, 56 patients were taken to the Dr Ziauddin Hospital and 10 others to Kutiyana Memon Hospital and almost all were discharged after first medical aid. Three deaths occurred at the Ziauddin Hospital and two others at Kutiyana Hospital.

Police surgeon Dr Qarar Ahmed Abbasi said two women patients were brought to the Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi and they were discharged after first medical aid.

City SSP Muquddus Haider told Dawn that around 15 to 20 persons with breathing problem were hospitalised on Monday.

Edhi Foundation spokesperson said two patients, one identified as Imran, 30, and another aged 50 years had died of inhaling toxic gases.

However, City SSP Haider said that they had no report of any death till the filing of this report.

Dr Seemi Jamali, the executive director of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), said they had received 11 patients. Two of them, who were conscious, said they were facing problems in breathing. They were discharged after first aid on Sunday night while one man, who was unconscious and brought on stretcher, was also discharged on Monday.

According to Dr Jamali, two patients — Aman and Abdul Waheed — said they were residents of Lyari and Pakistan Chowk area, respectively, and were facing trouble breathing after visiting Keamari.

Investigation

The authorities concerned were not sure about the exact cause of the incident. “We are still clueless to find out the possible cause of the incident,” Karachi police chief Ghulam Nabi Memon told Dawn.

However, he added, senior police officers were in coordination with the doctors to determine the exact nature of the incident.

Besides, teams consisting of district police, port security force, health department and district administration had been formed to identify the exact cause of the problem.

DIG South Sharjeel Kharal after visiting the area told media that West Wharf and East Wharf were being checked to ascertain as to whether emission of toxic gases occurred from there.

The DIG said ‘capsule-shape containers’ were being particularly checked as area people had informed investigators they saw such type of containers standing there the other day.

“We are seeking help from Karachi University’s chemistry department and other relevant institutions to clear the area,” said the DIG. He added that with the help of institutions concerned, people responsible for negligence would be identified.

KPT denies any gas leakage

KPT chairman Jamil Akhter told media that the port was functioning normally.

“All terminals have been checked and from nowhere, gas leakage has taken place,” he claimed.

News being spread on social media about gas leakage from the port was wrong and untrue. “I assure you that gas leakage has not taken place from the port,” he said.

He believed that people did not know many things about the port. All berths at the KPT were being examined.

The port chairman revealed that Pakistan Navy had taken some samples and hoped that the report would be received soon.

While the police, Sindh Environmental Protection Agency, Pakistan Navy and KPT are all groping in the dark about the nature of the toxic gas or even the source of its leakage, residents of the densely-populated Railway Colony along the main Keamari Road cast doubts over a huge crude oil storage facility near their area.

“We have serious suspicions about these tanks and the authorities must pay a detailed visit here,” said Muhammad Hamid, a resident of Railway Colony which was one of the affected areas.

A few youngsters looked into the issue on their own after finding that no one took their suspicions seriously.

“We contacted a few experts, university academicians and did some search on our own on the internet,” said one of the youngsters Shahid Khan. “We have very strong doubts after the daylong exercise that there could be a possibility of some kind of leakage or negligence at these crude oil storage facilities. It may be hydrogen sulphide that polluted the air and caused all this mess. This needs to be investigated with honesty.”

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2020