‘Heat enough to melt a person’: Steam that burnt NTPC workers was at 140 degrees
Death came suddenly for the labourers on a routine repair assignment on one of the boilers of the 1550 megawatt Unchahar thermal power plant which exploded Wednesday afternoon, leaving eyewitnesses shell shocked by the intensity of the destruction.
The 500 megawatt unit 6 of the power plant was commissioned in April but due to technical fault in the boiler the unit failed to produce power.
The labourers were called to repair a fault after engineers detected that coal chunks were stuck in the pipe of the boiler. Suddenly at 3:30 pm hot gas and steam escaped from a corner of the boiler duct killing those near the boiler immediately and covering them with hot ash. The bodies lay scattered at the spot.
An engineer Lalmani Verma posted at NTPC Unchahar told HT that at the time of the explosion the temperature of the steam was 140 degree and pressure in the boiler was 765 kg per mm square.
“The heat is enough to melt a person. Around 40 labourers working very close to the boiler bore the brunt of the blast,” he said.
President of the UP Engineers Association, Shailendra Dubey said it was the first major blast in a power plant in the state in which large numbers of people have lost life. Boiler blasts have been reported in the state government run Obra, Panki and Haduaganj power plants but no deaths had been recorded.
For eyewitnesses, Wednesday’s disaster unfolded a macabre dance of death.
Ram Prakash, a labourer in Plant No 1 is worried about his friends Nanku and Pappu, who were on Plant No 6 where the boiler exploded.
Despite repeated efforts, the 35-year-old resident of Laxmipur Bazar, around 12-km away from the power plant, Ram Prakash was clueless about his friends.
“We had plans for a small get together this evening as it was Nanku’s birthday today, and Pappu had to cook a non-vegetarian meal for all three,” Ram Prakash told HT after searching both district hospital and Jeevan Jyoti hospital inside the NTPC premises.
Ram Prakash doesn’t have their addresses or any whereabouts of their families. “We became friends a few months ago as the Plant No 6 is new and is being run on the trials basis. I don’t know what to do now,” he said, adding, “Yes, I saw a heap of dead and many badly burnt bodies. There were cries and voices for help even when I reached the spot almost 15 minutes after the incident.”
“It was a horrible scene. I saw some labourers dying while being taken to the ambulances. I haven’t seen such a tragic incident ever in my life,” he said.
Like thousand other daily labourers he is paid Rs 200 a day.
“Working in a plant, especially close to boiler is always dangerous, but there is no other option I have. I am the only earning member in a family of four, and being uneducated, this is the only job I can do.”
“It was a risky affair to work on that plant as it was made operational a month ago, and things were not safe,” claimed another eyewitness Dinesh Kaushal, who had refused to work on the Plant No 6 when the contractor had asked him to take the job.
It wasn’t only labourers who bore the brunt of the explosion. Some of the senior officials of the NTPC too were reportedly trapped in the fire.
“Yes. I saw a few officers also crying for help when the fire broke out in the plant, and I didn’t see them coming out of the plant thereafter,” Nalin Singh, another eye witness told HT at the Jeevan Jyoti hospital.