Fireworks at India temple kills many

2016-04-10 20:01

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Kollam - An explosion and massive blaze apparently sparked by a stray firework during an unauthorised display killed over 100 people and injured scores more at a temple complex in southern India on Sunday.

Thousands had packed overnight into the Hindu temple complex in Kerala state where the firework is thought to have landed on a stockpile of other fireworks, triggering a huge blast that partially demolished a concrete building.

"It came like a storm, throwing everyone to the ground. There were bodies all over the place and the injured were writhing in pain," said Anish Kumar, who had gone with his friends to see the display at the Puttingal Devi temple.

"I was horrified to see hundreds of men and women on the ground lifeless," said Kumar, who lost one of his friends in the disaster.

Residents told of an explosion that shattered windows of homes some 100 metres away, before they raced to the temple to search for survivors in the rubble.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the accident as "heart-rending and shocking beyond words". He toured the temple and met the injured in a hospital in Kollam district.

A team of specialist doctors were deployed from New Delhi amid reports of horrific burn injuries. The navy and air force also sent helicopters to evacuate the most critically injured, officials said.

"It has been confirmed that 102 people were killed and 280 injured and admitted to various hospitals. Now our focus is to provide the best treatment to the injured," Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy told reporters.

Firefighters and police had battled at the temple in the coastal town of Paravur to douse the fire and rescue those trapped at the complex. Residents said some victims were charred beyond recognition.

Video footage showed a series of explosions and fireworks erupting about 03:00 (21:30 GMT) along with huge plumes of smoke.

Amputations needed

Local residents carried the bloodied and injured victims in their arms from the scene. They told of concrete slabs and other debris from a building hitting the crowd.

Chandy and other officials said the temple had gone ahead with the fireworks display despite being refused permission.

"I had denied permission for this fireworks because they had asked permission for conducting it on a competition basis," Kollam district collector A. Shainomal told the NDTV network.

The Kerala government ordered a judicial inquiry into the cause of the disaster and Chandy's spokesman told AFP that police have registered a criminal case against temple authorities.

Local lawmaker NK Premachandran said it occurred during a fireworks competition traditionally held every year between different groups at the temple. Thousands had gathered to watch.

One firework landed on a building that was storing the rest of the pyrotechnic material, triggering the explosion, he said.

Fires and stampedes are not uncommon at temples and during religious occasions, often because of poor security arrangements and lax safety standards.

Emergency room doctor Rajesh Kumar said those who poured into his Kollam hospital were suffering from head injuries and burn wounds, and several had needed amputations.


"Seven people had partial amputations in the blast and we had to amputate surgically. Most of the injured had head, torso and internal injuries, a few had burn injuries," he told AFP.

Modi announced $3 005 in compensation for the families of those killed and $751 for those injured.

Messages of condolence poured in from around the world, with Pope Francis's office saying the pontiff was "praying for all affected by this tragedy".

Britain's Prince William and wife Kate said through a spokesperson that they were "saddened by the news" after arriving in India on Sunday for an official tour.

Navy spokesperson DK Sharma said helicopters would transport the injured to Thiruvananthapuram and also to Kochi city where the navy operates a hospital, with some of the injured currently being treated at smaller medical centres.

The fire comes as Kerala - governed by the Congress party, which is in opposition at national level - heads to the polls in one of five state elections being held in India this month and next.

Read more on:    india

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