May 7 (UPI) -- At least eight people died and hundreds were hospitalized after toxic gas leaked from a chemical factory in southern India early Thursday, officials said.
Srijana Gummalla, the commissioner for the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corp., said hundreds of people fell unconscious or suffered breathing issues after inhaling gas leaked around 2:30 a.m. from the LG Chemical facility in Visakhapatnam.
Damodar Gautam Sawang, director general of police in Andhra Pradesh state, confirmed six people were killed by gas while two others died in accidents while fleeing the area.
Between 200 and 500 people were being treated at local hospitals, a police official said.
District Collector Vinay Chand identified the leaked chemical as styrene. Police Commissioner Rajiv Kumar Meena said at least five villages were affected.
"Villages evacuation is underway," Mekapati Goutham Reddy, Andhra Pradesh's minister of Industries, Commerce and Information Technology, said on Twitter. "Request citizens not to panic and cooperate with authorities."
Satya Pradhan, director general of the National Disaster Response Force, posted a short video to Twitter showing members of a special chemical accident team conducting search-and-rescue operations on site.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he has spoken with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the National Disaster Management Authority about the leak.
"I pray for everyone's safety and well-being in Visakhapatnam," Modi said via Twitter.
South Korea's LG Chem said in a statement to The New York Times it was working with local authorities to assess the damage to the public and was doing "whatever it takes to protect them and our workers."
"The gas leak from the factory is now under control," it said. "But the gas can cause vomiting and dizziness when inhaled. We are doing all we can to ensure medical treatment as quickly as possible."
The company said it was investigating "the cause of deaths" and other damage.
Rahul Gandhi, a member of the Indian Parliament, said he was "shocked" to hear about the leak and urged congress to provide all necessary support to those affected.
"My condolences to the families of those who have perished," he said in a statement. "I pray that those hospitalized make a speedy recovery."