Nine employees, including seven from the Telangana State Power Generation Corporation and two private service providers, were killed and eight others sustained injuries after a major fire broke out in the Srisailam Left Bank Hydel Power Station late on Thursday night.
Prima facie, three people died of burns while the others choked to death, authorities said.
As thick smoke hampered relief operations, it took firefighters and rescue teams over 15 hours to retrieve the bodies from the plant.
According to TSGenco, there were 17 employees, five of them engineers, in the under-tunnel hydroelectric plant at the time of mishap.
“Eight of them managed to come out with just injuries, nine others remained inside to douse the fire and prevent it from spreading further”, a Genco statement said.
“All of them managed to reach the escape tunnel, but they did not succeed due to thick plumes of smoke,” the statement added.
The deceased were identified as deputy engineer Srinivas Goud, assistant engineers Sundar, Venkat Rao, Mohan Kumar and Uzma Fathima, plant attendant Rambabu and junior attendant Kiran. Vinesh Kumar and Mahesh Kumar were employees of Amaron Batteries, Hyderabad. They were assisting the TSGenco team in running the plant.
Short circuit in one of the electric panels is suspected to have caused the tragedy.
According to TSGenco authorities, the power plant is located about 1.2 km inside a tunnel and the only way to reach the plant was through it.
The plant is situated on the Telangana side of the Srisailam reservoir on Krishna river, a joint irrigation project between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The power house was constructed inside the two-km long tunnel under the Nallamala hill range adjacent to the reservoir.
Telangana power minister G Jagadishwar Reddy, agriculture minister S Niranjan Reddy, TSGenco chairman and managing director Devulapalli Prabhakar Rao camped at the plant supervising the rescue operations.
Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has ordered a Crime Investigation Department probe into the incident. CID Additional Director General Govind Singh has been asked to lead the inquiry.
The state government has announced Rs 50 lakh ex gratia to the next kin of divisional engineer Srinivas and Rs.25 lakh to the bereaved families of the other eight employees. The government has also announced job for one member from each of the nine families.