Mock emergency drill creates panic in Goa

November 8th, 2009 - 7:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Panaji, Nov 8 (IANS) A mock emergency drill Sunday triggered a major scare throughout Goa, after the administration flashed messages, through a private SMS news service and FM radio stations, of an ammonia leak from an agro-chemical factory in south Goa.
The message issued throughn Digital Goa, a privately run phone SMS news service, read: “In a major emergency situation, Zuari’s (agro-chemicals) ammonia gas has leaked at Sancoale. Gas is shifting towards Verna industrial estate. Many people affected. Shifted to Goa Medical College (GMC)”.

The message resulted in chaotic scenes near the Zuari agro-chemical factory, which is in close vicinity of the Zuari Nagar slum area. The factory is also in close proximity of several vital installations, including the Dabolim international airport, the Mormugao Port Trust, and others.

“I was heading for a relative’s place in Verna, when a friend told me about the scare. I had no idea what to do. There was chaos all round,” Martha D’Souza, a resident of Vasco, said.

Speaking to IANS, deputy collector Levinson Martins, who was conducting the mock drill, said that he was only following the procedure laid down under the National Disaster Management Act (NDMA).

“What I have done is as per the NDMA. We told Digital Goa and we also told FM channels along with all the authorities, who are supposed to be ready for such a contingency. 200 people were taken to hospital as part of the exercise. Fire tenders from all over the state were also rushed to the situation,” he said.

District Collector South Goa G.P.Naik said the administration had already released a second news flash that the exercise was a mock drill and asked people not to panic.

“It was only a drill. There is no cause for alarm. The second message has been flashed. Didn’t you get it?” he said.

Niraj Naik, the owner of Digital Goa, criticised the government agencies for using his news service and called the execution of the mock drill a “ridiculous exercise”.

“It has created unprecedented panic because of the wrong news provided by deputy collector Levinson Martin. This is a pure case of over-activism by the authorities. The concept of a mock drill has been stretched to extreme levels.”

“If this kind of a tragedy really happens in some time now, no one will take the government seriously,” Naik said, adding that his service was not listed as a part of the disaster management exercise.

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