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Fire sparks panic at Chennai port

Petlee Peter

— Photo: R. Shivaji Rao

BATTLING THE BLAZE: Firemen putting out the fire that emanated from an abandoned tank at the Chennai port on Monday.

CHENNAI: Panic gripped Royapuram for many hours after an abandoned tank containing bunker fuel residue at Chennai Port caught fire on Monday afternoon.

The thick black smoke from the tank engulfed the area and hundreds of people living in the neighbourhood were evacuated. Traffic was affected.

Fire and Rescue Services officials said sparks from welding work on a new tank nearby is suspected to have caused the fire. No one was injured in the incident.

Residents evacuated

The fire in the tank, near Gate 2 of the Chennai Port Trust, was noticed around 2.30 p.m. after thick black smoke started billowing out. Over 50 residents living in Trust Villa, the staff quarters of CISF, a few yards away, were the first to be evacuated. Fearing an explosion, several other residents of Royapuram were seen moving to safer places.

Arunachalam (42), driver of a car belonging to a household on G.M.Pettai, said that he heard screams from the area near the tank and saw residents from the quarters running out. “Soon thick smoke started emerging from the tank,” he added.

Police personnel cordoned the area. Nine fire tenders, two foam tenders and 15 water lorries were rushed to the spot through the narrow G.M.Pettai Road and East Kalmandapam Road.

The firemen positioned themselves atop Trust Villa and sprayed foam and water into the burning tank preventing the flames from spreading to the nearby tanks, some of which were said to contain crude oil and petroleum products.

After a three-hour-long battle, the fire was put out. By then the iron tank had completely melted.

Speaking to The Hindu, S. Vijayasekar, Deputy Director of Northern Region, Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services, said welding work was under way on one of the two newly installed tanks near the abandoned tank. “Welders were fixing the iron stairs on one of the new tanks and the sparks seem to have fallen into the abandoned tank which contained fuel residue,” Mr. Vijayasekar added.

An investigation is under way to ascertain the cause of the fire.

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