Kerala’s Kochi has turned into a “gas chamber” a week after a massive fire broke out at a waste management plant in the city’s Brahmapuram area. Though firefighters managed to douse the blaze on the second day, long columns of thick, black smoke continued to seep into the surrounding areas, blanketing them.
Residents have complained of breathing problems as the smoke from plastic, metal and other burnt objects float towards colonies in the city. Many have reported burning sensation in the eyes and throat.
The Kerala government has asked people to use N95 mask while going out. People have been asked to avoid jogging outdoors till the situation stabilizes. The district medical officer has set up a 24×7 control room. All schools and colleges in Kochi and some in neighbouring Ernakulam have been shut.
In Kochi, the situation resembles that of a COVID-19 lockdown. There are few people out on the roads. Those seen outside have masked up. Children and the elderly are not stepping out.
At least 50,000 tonnes of garbage caught fire. Fire department officials said they have managed to control smoke billowing out from 70 per cent of the affected area. They are working to completely remove smoke from the remaining 30 per cent, where smouldering plastic waste is a huge problem.
“Initially, when the fire started, we were not affected much. Once the fire settled, it became very difficult for us with the massive, thick smoke. Today, even my house was full of smoke. Yesterday, my friends who live at the hostel had to sleep with masks. They were complaining of smoke and odour,” Liz Biju, a student studying at a college just 1 km from the waste management plant, told NDTV on Wednesday. Her house too is nearby.
At least 30 teams of firefighters and navy choppers were involved in trying to put out the fire, which has ignited large mounds of garbage including plastic, metal and rubber, releasing toxic smoke.
“I appeal to the authorities to take action. We can’t be breathing like this,” Liz Biju said.
Kochi’s Brahmapuram is the only big centralised solid waste management plant in the 14 districts of Kerala.
The Kerala High Court has slammed the Kochi municipal body, saying the city has become a gas chamber. It sought a report on what caused the fire and an action plan. The civic body said they are still investigating the cause of the fire.
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