Two persons, including a girl, succumbed to injuries today. The condition of five among the 20 injured who have received around 80 per cent burns remains critical, police said.
"A 4-year-old girl and a man died today at a private hospital in Kakinada. With this the toll has risen to 17," East Godavari District Superintendent of Police G Vijay Kumar told PTI.
The massive blaze started early yesterday morning, apparently after leaked gas from the pipeline got ignited when a tea vendor lighted his stove. Gigantic flames scorched houses, coconut palms and everything else in a 1.5 km radius.
A case was today registered against the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL), after examining eye-witnesses, recording statements of victims' relatives and based on preliminary investigation, a police officer said.
Several villagers have alleged that they had complained about foul smell of gas emanating from leaks in the pipeline, but no repair was undertaken by the company.
The case was registered under sections 304 A (causing death by negligence), 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 286 (negligent conduct with respect to explosive substance) of the Indian Penal Code, the senior police officer said.
Meanwhile, a Centre-appointed committee today started a separate probe after inspecting the site of tragedy.
East Godavari district police have formed a special team to carry out their investigation. "We are examining documents related to the pipeline. GAIL officials will also be questioned," the senior police officer said.
The villagers had alleged that the pipeline was over two decades old and was rusting.
The investigators would check if the public sector company had taken necessary safety measures for the gas pipeline which passes through a populated area in the village.
Meanwhile, R K Singh, who heads the high-level probe panel of the Union Government, said it had started collecting samples from the site and in a couple of days it would be able to throw some light on the cause of the mishap.
"Reasons...we are yet to establish...we are looking at different possibilities. But as of now we are not able to come to a specific reason," Singh, Joint Secretary (Refineries) in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, said after site inspection.
"My people will take the soil samples and pipe samples to check the strength of the metal, whether there was loss of thickness. We would be able to come to some conclusion in a day or two," he said.
The committee comprises officials from Oil Industry Safety Directorate, National Disaster Management Authority and Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd.
"If there is any negligence proven, severe action will be taken against the officials concerned. That is why this inquiry team has come for," Singh said.