In a second industrial disaster this month, a state-owned gas pipeline in Andhra Pradesh exploded on Friday morning, killing at least 16 people, injuring 18 others and gutting scores of homes.
The fire that set off the blast around 5am in East Godavari district's Nagaram village broke out apparently after a tea vendor lit a stove, said inspector general of police (north coastal zone) Atul Singh.
A GAIL official, quoting its chairman BC Tripathi, however, said only an inquiry will ascertain the exact cause of the blast.
Television pictures showed flames at least 30 feet high leaping into the dawn sky, scorching trees in a surrounding coconut grove and burning flimsy huts.
Bodies of 13 people were recovered from these huts. Three others succumbed to injuries during treatment at various hospitals. Among the dead are five women, three girls and a boy.
Watch: Death toll rises to 15, over 20 injured
The fire on the 18-inch pipeline, which feeds gas to Lanco's Kondapalli power plant near Vijaywada, was extinguished by mid-morning. The blaze occurred barely a few hundred metres from ONGC's Tatipaka Refinery located at the village.
"Fire has been controlled. The gas pipeline has been shut. This is a very serious situation and I have ordered a high-level inquiry into the incident," petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan said in Delhi.
A group of angry local residents reportedly entered an office belonging to GAIL near the accident site and pelted it with stones.
State finance minister Y Ramakrishnudu was quoted by PTI as saying that the local residents were angry because "they feel GAIL authorities did not bother though smell was coming from the rusting pipeline".
Two weeks ago, six people were killed by a poisonous gas leak in Chhattisgarh's Bhilai Steel Plant. But Friday's incident was the deadliest to hit India's energy sector since last August, when 28 people were killed in a fire at an oil refinery in nearby Vishakhapatnam.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered condolences to the families of the deceased and his office announced an ex-gratia relief of Rs 2 lakh each for the dead victims' kin and Rs 50,000 each for those seriously injured in the incident.
(With inputs from Prasad Nichenametla and agencies)