40 feared dead in fireworks factory blast

2012-09-05 13:03
An Indian labourer works at a fireworks factory on the outskirts of Siliguri. (AFP, File)

An Indian labourer works at a fireworks factory on the outskirts of Siliguri. (AFP, File)

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Chennai - An explosion at a fireworks factory in southern India left up to 40 people dead and dozens of others with serious burns on Wednesday, fire and medical officials said.

Television footage showed smoke billowing into the sky above a factory in Sivakasi, which is the centre of the Indian fireworks industry around 700km south of the Tamil Nadu state capital Chennai.

Local firefighter Shanmugaraju, who spoke from the scene, described a "huge explosion" when a small fire in the Om Sivasakthi factory ignited stock in two nearby warehouses.

"Thirty bodies have already been found. Some were factory workers, most of them were local villagers," Shanmugaraju said, explaining that local people had walked towards the factory after the fire broke out.

"The fire started around 10:30 (local time) this morning. So far 40 injured people have been taken by ambulances to the local government hospital," he added, saying that six fire trucks were on the scene.

An administrator in the local Sivakasi government hospital, Venkatalakshmi, said 22 bodies had been counted at her hospital and another local health centre.

Peak production

"We have already registered 40 injured patients, but we expect the numbers to keep going up. We have very limited accommodation here for patients. Already our burns ward is full," she said.

Sivakasi, home to around 700 fireworks factories, is running at peak production ahead of the forthcoming festival season which includes Diwali, the festival of lights when Indians celebrate by letting off firecrackers.

"Diwali is fast approaching and there is a lot of activity going on out here," local police officer Najmulhoda, who uses one name, said by telephone from the blast site.

There are frequent small accidents in Sivakasi, a small industrial town that is also a centre of match production, because of lax safety standards.

The fireworks industry has also been targeted in the past by child rights activists because of the large number of children employed in the trade.

In July 2005 at least 20 people were killed after a blaze tore through a factory.

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