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1984: Hundreds die in Bhopal chemical accident

VIDEO : Mark Tully reports on the aftermath of the leak

Hundreds of people have died from the effects of toxic gases which leaked from a chemical factory near the central Indian city of Bhopal.

The accident happened in the early hours of this morning at the American-owned Union Carbide Pesticide Plant three miles (4.8 km) from Bhopal.

Mr Y P Gokhale, managing director of Union Carbide in India, said that methyl isocyanate gas (MIC) had escaped when a valve in the plant's underground storage tank broke under pressure.


"Mothers didn't know their children had died, children didn't know their mothers had died and men didn't know their whole families had died"

Ahmed Khan, Bhopal resident

This caused a deadly cloud of lethal gas to float from the factory over Bhopal, which is home to more than 900,000 people - many of whom live in slums.

Chaos and panic broke out in the city and surrounding areas as tens of thousands of people attempted to escape.

More than 20,000 people have required hospital treatment for symptoms including swollen eyes, frothing at the mouth and breathing difficulties.

Thousands of dead cats, dogs, cows and birds litter the streets and the city's mortuaries are filling up fast.

Bhopal resident, Ahmed Khan, said: "We were choking and our eyes were burning. We could barely see the road through the fog, and sirens were blaring.

"We didn't know which way to run. Everybody was very confused.

"Mothers didn't know their children had died, children didn't know their mothers had died and men didn't know their whole families had died."

The Union Carbide factory was closed immediately after the accident and three senior members of staff arrested.

Medical and scientific experts have been dispatched to the scene and the Indian government has ordered a judicial inquiry.

It is understood the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, will be flying to the area within the next few days.


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