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14 dead and hundreds fall ill after gas leak in Pakistan

24 February 2020

A gas leak in the port city of Karachi, on the south coast of Pakistan, has so far killed 14 people and left hundreds of people sick. The origin of the leak, which was first detected on February 16, has yet to be determined with local officials giving conflicting explanations as to what happened.

Port of Karachi - Image: Wikimedia/Sana Sneha
Port of Karachi - Image: Wikimedia/Sana Sneha

Some officials said that the odourless gas was coming from the city’s port. Scientists and chemical experts from the army and navy were brought in to help find the source of the leak. Local hospitals said that around 650 people had been treated for sickness with some being taken to intensive care units.

Locals reported that they were experiencing breathing difficulties, chest pains, and burning eyes.

The deaths and illnesses all occurred in Kiamari, a neighbourhood situated on the coast of the city near to Karachi’s main port. Schools and factories in the area were closed in response to the toxic gas and Pakistan State Oil temporarily suspended operations at the port. Some officials said that the deaths and illnesses were caused by soybean dust that may have spread during an unloading operation at the port. 

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency of Sindh Province suggested that hydrogen sulphide gas emissions from an oil terminal in the port may have also been the cause of the deaths and illnesses. However, the province’s chemical science laboratory offered a contradictory explanation and said the deaths may have been caused by methyl bromide, a gas used in the fumigation of large vessels.

There have also even been suggestions that the leak didn’t originate from Karachi port at all. In a statement, the Karachi Port Trust Chairman, Jameel Akhtar, said: "All terminals and berths have been checked. Even private terminals, the oil piers, oil installation areas have been checked. No gas or chemical leakage. If there was a gas leak at the port the first affected would have been the people who work near the court."

Government officials are yet to make an official statement about the incident.

The contradicting reports and theories coming from federal and provincial officials has fuelled demonstrations, with some locals suggesting a cover-up was taking place.

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