India orders probe after 106 perish in fireworks tragedy

Officials and bystanders gathering beside a collapsed building amid efforts to rescue survivors after an explosion and fire at the Puttingal Temple in Paravur, in the South Indian state of Kerala, yesterday. Police said top officials of the temple ha
Officials and bystanders gathering beside a collapsed building amid efforts to rescue survivors after an explosion and fire at the Puttingal Temple in Paravur, in the South Indian state of Kerala, yesterday. Police said top officials of the temple have gone missing in the wake of the tragedy.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Spark hits stored fireworks; officials had denied permission for event

The authorities have initiated judicial and criminal inquiries into an explosion and fire at a temple in the Indian state of Kerala, which left at least 106 people dead and 383 injured.

Thousand of devotees were at the Puttingal Temple in Kerala to witness the annual fireworks display, the highlight of festivities to mark Vishu, the local new year.

Television news showed footage of the fireworks display in the early hours of the morning suddenly leading to an explosion.

Local officials said a spark from one of the lit fireworks fell into a storage room where the rest were stored, causing the blast.

 

Officials said the management of the Puttingal Temple in Kollam district had gone ahead with the fireworks display despite being denied permission by the authorities.

"The temple committee had made a request for the fireworks display, but the local administration had rejected it. But they still went ahead with it. So many conditions were violated, including in how they stored the firecrackers in the room," Mr P.T. Chacko, the press secretary to the chief minister, told The Straits Times.

"We have instituted a judicial and a criminal inquiry - a judicial inquiry to find out what happened and a criminal inquiry to fix responsibility," he added.

Police said top officials of the temple have gone missing in the wake of the tragedy.

One of the contractors responsible for the fireworks display died in the accident, and his son is in hospital with 50 per cent burns.

Five employees of the father-son contractor duo have been arrested, according to Indian media reports.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who rushed to Kerala with a team of doctors, including burn specialists, toured the site and met the injured in local hospitals.

"Fire at temple in Kollam is heart-rending & shocking beyond words. My thoughts are with families of the deceased & prayers with the injured," tweeted Mr Modi earlier in the day.

The local government said the focus was now on the injured.

"The next main focus of the government is to provide best treatment to the injured," Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said, adding: "This is an unprecedented and alarming situation."

Television footage showed the injured, some badly burnt, being wheeled into nearby government and private hospitals.

Fireworks displays are a common way of marking festivities in India, particularly in the southern state of Kerala.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2016, with the headline '106 killed in India fireworks tragedy; govt orders probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe