At least 15 people were charred to death and 18 suffered burns in a massive explosion in a GAIL-operated pipeline passing through Nagaram village in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. The victims include three women and three children. Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu cut short his visit to Delhi and reached the accident site accompanied by Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. The blast occurred around 5.30 a.m. in the pipeline maintained by Gas Authority of India Limited carrying gas to the Lanco power station at Kondapalli near Vijayawada. Huge flames leapt from the damaged pipeline gutting scores of houses and shops. The police said the death toll could rise. Close to three dozen residents of Nagaram had suffered serious burns and were being treated at hospitals in Amalapuram, Rajahmundry and Kakinada. According to eye witnesses, the leaking gas from the pipeline was noticed at midnight on Friday and it had enveloped the area by early morning. When Vaka Nageswara Rao, who runs a tea stall adjacent to the pipeline, lit his stove in the morning, the gas caught fire, triggering the massive explosion, they said. The trunk pipeline had been repaired just two days ago. The damage could have been much higher had the flames spread to nearby Tatipaka ONGC Refinery Station. The GAIL pipeline runs in front of the gas collection centre and the Tatipaka mini refinery of the ONGC. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an ex gratia of Rs. 2 lakh each to the families of the deceased. He instructed senior officials of the Petroleum Ministry to personally oversee the relief and rescue operations and suggest steps to ensure that such incidents did not recur. Mr. Naidu who faced angry crowds at the accident site, ordered an inquiry into the incident and said officials found guilty of dereliction of duty would not be spared.