Rescue officials have retrieved the bodies of three men trapped inside a hydroelectric plant in Telangana that caught fire on Thursday night. The three - all assistant engineers - were among the nine trapped at the underground power station in Srisailam.
Nagarkurnool District Collector L Sharman said the body of assistant engineer Sunder Nayak, hailing from Suryapet, has been recovered and sent for a post-mortem. The police identified the second body as that of assistant engineer Mohan Kumar.
Nineteen people were on shift when the fire started around 10.30pm on Thursday. While 10 managed to escape, nine were trapped inside.
Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has ordered a CID inquiry into the incident and a detailed report will be be submitted to the state government.
A short-circuit is suspected to have caused the fire, which was followed by an explosion in unit 4 of the six-unit power station. The smoke from the massive blaze had engulfed all six units of the power station from zero level to the service bay, hampering rescue operations.
Thick smoke is still emanating from the tunnel where the hydel project is located and efforts are on to lessen its intensity, officials said.
Sharman said five fire engines were engaged in extinguishing the smoke. Although the fire has been extinguished, the smoke is still posing a challenge.
Sources said rescue personnel tried to enter the power station units at least thrice in the morning but were unable to enter due to the thick smoke. Teams from the National Disaster Response Force had also joined the rescue operation.
"There was huge smoke and because of it we were not able to enter the plant premises," said Sharman. They finally managed to enter after 11 am on Friday.
"Our main target is to rescue them...we are not able to contact them because they are not carrying mobile phones and there is no mobile network," he had said earlier in the day.
Chief Minister Rao expressed shock over the accident and said he is monitoring the situation at the site. Rao said he wanted all those trapped in the plant to be brought out safely and spoke to minister Jagdeesh Reddy and Transco, Genco CMD D Prabhakar Rao to review the relief measures.
Nagarkurnool district fire officer Sri Das said several teams were pressed into service from Kothakotta, Mahababubnagar, Amarabad, Achampeta and Atmakur in Kurnool district. “People are trapped at different floors. We could not find them on the surface floor. It is very difficult to say how long this operation might last. We think, by late evening or tomorrow morning, we will have everything clear,” he said.
Reddy, who visited the site, said it was an unfortunate incident as these kind of accidents in hydropower plants are very rare.
"There’s heavy smoke which is making rescue operations difficult. Even fire personnel have become unconscious while trying to rescue people inside. NDRF teams are also helping. Luckily, the drivers carrying firemen have masks- so that has saved them. We have asked help from Singareni Collieries workers since they work in underground conditions."