On the morning of May 7, when styrene gas was leaking from the LG Polymers plant in Vizag, Yalamanchili Kanakaraju was one of the people who had helped move many of his neighbours in Venkatapuram village to safety. Three weeks later, the 46-year-old, who worked as a carpenter, died after being continuously ill since the gas leak, suffering from nausea, breathlessness and stomach-ache, according to his family. Authorities, however, have refused to attribute his death to the gas leak, until the post mortem report arrives.
Local activists and his family members have since alleged that Kanakaraju died from lack of adequate medical care, a complaint echoed by residents of Venkatapuram, the village closest to epicentre of the gas leak. â€śMany of us are still suffering from fast heart rate, nausea, headache and breathlessness. The ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) here give us some medicines which give temporary relief in some cases, but the problems have persisted for many of us,â€ť says 25-year-old Sagar, a resident of Venkatapuram.
Residents say that since May 11, Suraksha Hospital, a private hospital in Marripalem, was designated as the place where gas leak victims could avail free medical care. â€śBut anyone who goes there, regardless of their condition, is given the same treatment. They are simply admitting people for a couple of days and putting them on saline, before discharging them. I myself went there with dizziness and stomach pain on May 17. I was admitted for 48 hours, but when I asked the doctor for more information on my condition, I didnâ€™t get a clear answer. We asked for reports in case we need to consult another doctor in the future but we didnâ€™t get those either,â€ť Sagar said, adding that the doctors simply prescribed eye drops and other medicines for treating symptoms.
In Kanakarajuâ€™s case, he was prescribed some medicines on May 7, the day of the gas leak. However, he continued to have health issues like burning sensation in the eyes, breathlessness, nausea and a bloated stomach. â€śWhen these conditions didnâ€™t subside, he was taken to Suraksha hospital on May 11, where he was admitted for four days and then discharged after being prescribed some medicines,â€ť says Appalaraju, Kanakarajuâ€™s nephew.
With his condition continuing to worsen, on June 1, a cardiologist at Suraksha hospital advised the family to get an echocardiogram done. Kanakaraju died on his way to the diagnostic centre.
A few days earlier, on May 26, an 80-year-old woman from Venkatapuram named Pala Venkayamma passed away at King George Hospital. Venkayammaâ€™s family has also alleged that the woman died from ailments caused by the gas leak. However, KGH Superintendent Dr Arjuna had said that the woman had been suffering from various ailments related to old-age. He said that the death cannot be attributed to the gas leak unless the post-mortem and Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) reports arrive.
Speaking to TNM on Friday, Dr Arjuna said that in both Venkayamma and Kanakarajuâ€™s cases, the post mortem reports may take 15 to 30 days to arrive, depending on the workload on the forensic lab. As per official numbers, 12 people have died as a result of the gas leak so far.
Ganga Rao, CPI(M) Visakhapatnam City Secretary, who has been working with the gas leak victims, said that many people in Venkatapuram and the surrounding villages are still anxious because of the continuing illnesses.
Sagar says that apart from Suraksha hospital, KGH is the only alternative for most of the affected people. â€śEven there, people are saying they are being sent back with basic medicines,â€ť he says. Without proper diagnosis and counselling, he says people have continued to remain distressed.