NEW DELHI • Police were hunting for a suspect who illegally stored explosives in a restaurant building in central India that sparked a deadly blast, killing at least 88 people and injuring nearly 100.
The blast occurred in the town of Petlawad in Madhya Pradesh state's Jhabua district on Saturday morning when many office workers and schoolchildren were having breakfast in the restaurant, and scores of labourers waited at a crowded bus stand near the building.
Rajendra Kasawa has been charged with illegally storing gelatin sticks and urea, a common fertiliser, next to a restaurant and busy junction in the town of Petlawad in central India, a senior police official and the divisional commissioner Sanjay Dubey said. "He is on the run. One of his accomplices has already been arrested. He has been charged under the Explosives Act," Mr Dubey said from the site of Saturday's blast, one of the deadliest in India in recent years.
"The official death toll is 88, but the actual number may be higher, nearly 100. That will be confirmed soon," senior Jhabua district police official Seema Alava said.
She said police earlier thought the explosion was triggered by a gas cylinder, which detonated explosives that were stored illegally in the restaurant building and amplified its impact, destroying neighbouring buildings and vehicles.
"It was the other way around. The explosives in the building exploded first... extreme heat sparked a urea nitrate chemical reaction and then, that was it. Everything went off after that," Ms Alava said.
Although Kasawa had a licence for the material, Ms Alava said he stored them "in an unauthorised way in a residential area" and therefore had been booked for culpable homicide and unlawful possession of explosives.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan visited Petlawad, 950km south of New Delhi, yesterday. "I'm deeply saddened by the incident at Petlawad. I could not sleep the whole night," Mr Chouhan told reporters before heading to the blast site.
Angry locals surrounded him and demanded better security, saying their earlier complaints against Kasawa had gone unheard by district officials. Many complained that mine operators like Kasawa are negligent in storing detonators and other explosive materials, yet the authorities rarely act against them.
The state government said a full probe into the explosions would be carried out, while officials from New Delhi have been dispatched to help with the investigation.
Photographs from Saturday's scene showed corpses covered in dust and ash lying in the streets alongside the twisted wreckage of burned-out vehicles.
Workers collected firewood and lit pyres that billowed black smoke into the sky as mass cremations of dozens of people were carried out late on Saturday.
Jhabua district is home to several manganese and bauxite mines where many mine workers are hired on contract from Petlawad and its neighbouring towns.