At least 22 COVID-19 patients on ventilator support died on Wednesday due to an interrupted supply of medical oxygen at a civic-run hospital at Nashik in Maharashtra caused by the leakage of the gas from a storage plant, officials said.
A senior civic official said of the 150 patients admitted to the hospital, 23 were on ventilator support at the time of the incident while the rest were on oxygen support.
"As per the current information, 22 people have died due to the interrupted supply of oxygen at the Zakir Hussain municipal hospital. The patients were on ventilators as well as on oxygen supply, which got interrupted after the leakage in the oxygen supply tank," district collector Suraj Mandhare told reporters.
He said the municipal corporation immediately shifted dura cylinders from other facilities in the city to help the patients at the Zakir Hussain Hospital.
According to local officials, the oxygen leakage was noticed around 12.30 pm, following which hospital authorities were alerted.
Hospital officials in turn contacted municipal commissioner Kailash Jadhav seeking technical help to stop the leakage, they said.
Mandhare said a private company looks after the maintenance of the oxygen storage tank located on the premises of the hospital.
"We have given all the information to the government. As far as the oxygen supply is concerned, the NMC has received dura cylinders from places where the consumption is less.Oxygen will be supplied to the patients from these cylinders," he said.
Divisional Revenue Commissioner Radhakrishna Game said a 13 KL (kilolitre) oxygen tank was set up on the premises of the hospital, located in Dwarka area in the north Maharashtra city.
"Around 10 am, a socket of the oxygen storage tank broke and the leakage started. When the hospital staff came to know about it, they deployed jumbo cylinders to supply oxygen to the patients and started shifting some of the patients," he said.
Game said the leakage has been stopped, the tank repaired and the oxygen supply is being normalised.
"As the incident happened, people rushed to the hospital wards which created hurdles in the rescue operations. When this happened, an oxygen tanker reached the hospital premises. Technicians who came with that tanker and technicians at the hospital broke open the lock of the tank and closed the valve which prevented the further leakage of oxygen," Game added.
Expressing grief, Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said the 22 deceased, including 11 men and 11 women, died due to a low supply of oxygen caused by the leakage from the storage tank.
They all were on ventilators and COVID-19 positive, he said, adding the kin of the deceased will be given financial assistance from the CM relief fund, which will be announced by the chief minister's office.
Commenting on the leakage from the oxygen tank, Tope said, "The liquid oxygen which was filled in the tank has the temperature of around (minus) 180-degree celsius. There is extreme pressure on the walls of the tank which supplies the oxygen to patients on ventilators. It is more of a technical issue".
Tope said a probe will ascertain whether the leakage was caused due to negligence or due to any other issue.
Nashik Municipal Corporation (NMC) commissioner Kailas Jadhav said no patient is in serious condition now.
"Out of the 150 patients admitted in the hospital, 23 were on ventilator support at the time of the incident while the rest were on oxygen supply," he said.
Jadhav said the oxygen level was around 25 per cent in the storage tank at the time of the incident.
Sources said two oxygen tanks were recently set up at the hospital and the task of maintaining the oxygen storage and maintenance has been given to a private company.
They also said the incident occurred when oxygen was being filled in one of the tanks from a tanker, which disturbed the supply to the patients who were on ventilators as well as to those dependent on oxygen for breathing.
Leela Shelar, who lost her 60-year-old mother in this tragedy was inconsolable.
"My mother was admitted in the hospital on Tuesday and was put on ventilator support," she said.
Shelar claimed as her mother complained of difficulty in breathing she requested the nursing staff to help, but they didn't pay heed.
"I didn't admit my mother here to die like this," she said while fighting her tears back.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has expressed deepest condolences to the family members of patients.
"I am distressed to hear the news of the accident of oxygen leak in a hospital in Nashik. I express my deepest condolences to those who have lost their loved ones in this accident.
"I pray to God for the speedy recovery of all the other patients," Shah tweeted in Hindi.
BJP MLA and former Maharashtra minister Girish Mahajan demanded Rs 10 lakh compensation for the kin of the deceased.
"We fear more patients will die due to the lack of oxygen supply as the government has failed to upgrade the health infrastructure in the state," Mahajan said.
Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council, Pravin Darekar, alleged the government has become lethargic in addressing the woes of people, which is a cause of worry.
"These deaths in Nashik bear testimony to the government's failure in saving lives of people," he added.
Meanwhile, senior police officers and personnel rushed to the hospital to control the situation.
Police dispersed the crowd of onlookers and restricted entry to the hospital.
Nashik Police Commissioner Deepak Pandey said the tragedy occurred due to the oxygen leakage while filing up the storage tank.
Police personnel are deployed in large numbers at the hospital.
Maharashtra is the worst-hit state in India both in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The state on Tuesday reported 62,097 fresh infections, taking the tally to 39,60,359, while 519 more patients succumbed to the infection, as per the state health department.