105 killed in Kerala temple fire

105 killed in Kerala temple fire

105 killed in Kerala temple fire

At least 105 people were killed and hundreds injured in explosions during a firework display at a temple in Paravur in Kollam district in the early hours of Sunday.

According to preliminary reports and eyewitness accounts, a misfired fire-cracker triggered the chain of powerful explosions at the Puttingal Bhadrakali Temple in Paravur, 22 km from Kollam town, at about 3 am on Sunday,  triggering one of Kerala’s worst tragedies.

Police officials said many deaths were caused by huge chunks of concrete from blasted buildings in the temple compound; one of them was reduced to rubble by the explosions. Homes near the temple were heavily damaged. About 90 of the deceased have been identified. Witnesses said most of the bodies of people who lost lives in the temple compound were charred. The blasts led to a power blackout hitting  rescue operations.

The impact of the explosions was felt even at homes located a kilometre away. Officials said 281 injured people, including nine women, have been admitted in 10 hospitals in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram. Cases have been filed against contractors assigned to organise the fireworks show.

Witnesses said about 80% of the firework show was over when the incident happened. They said more than half the crowd which had gathered around for the event had left when the explosions started. Even as political leaders — from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to first-time candidates — rushed to Kollam, reports said the tragedy could have been avoided if security-related strictures recommended by the administration were adhered to.

A competitive fireworks display was held at the temple despite ban orders. Some of the town's residents at the accident location said the organisers were likely to have stored explosives "at least double" of what is usually stored for such displays.

The State Government ordered a judicial investigation, under a retired judge, into the incident. A case registered by Paravur police will be taken over by the crime branch as part of a separate investigation.

The government has announced Rs 10 lakh each as financial aid to families of the deceased; families of the seriously injured will be extended a relief of Rs 2 lakh each. Even as the government co-ordinated extensive relief efforts, it was left fending questions on mandatory checks on such firework shows.

The firework show, held as part of the annual meenabharani festival at the temple, opened at around midnight. Moving away from tradition, the district administration had issued a ban on “competitive fireworks” following a complaint by a resident in the temple neighbourhood and based on reports that the organisers had not obtained a mandatory no-objection note from families living near the temple.

The two competing groups, however, had already stacked up a huge array of explosives and were engaged in a “friendly” display of fireworks, eye-witnesses said. Groups affiliated to two men – identified by residents of the town as Krishnankutty and Surendran – had announced participation for this year’s firework show.

K Shabu, who lives about 300 metres away from the firework show's venue, said an “extra load” of explosives was being brought in when the explosion happened. The firework show was in its last stage when tragedy struck.

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