THIRUVANANTHAPURAM (Kerala) • The fireworks display at Puttingal Temple in the coastal district of Kollam in the Indian state of Kerala began at midnight and went on for hours.
Thousands had gathered to witness the "competitive fireworks", in which two groups put on successive light shows for devotees, to mark the local new year.
But at around 3am, tragedy struck after a stray fire cracker fell into a storage shed where the rest of the fireworks were kept. The fiery conflagration that ensued killed at least 106 people and injured over 350.
The majority of the casualties occurred when the massive detonations brought down one of the temple's buildings.
Residents described hearing a huge explosion that shattered the windows of their homes some 100m away, before they raced to look for survivors in the rubble, reported Agence France-Presse. One of the victims was a biker hit by a piece of flying concrete 1km away from the blasts, reported the BBC.
"Our house is unliveable. Everything is blown off... If we had stayed in our house last night, we would have all died," resident Anitha Prakash told BBC Hindi.
"This morning when we came, there were body parts on the floor... on the roof there was a hand, an arm," she told the CNN-IBN network, adding that she had raised safety concerns about previous firework displays.
This morning when we came, there were body parts on the floor...on the roof there was a hand, an arm.
MS ANITHA PRAKASH, a resident.
Tragedies in recent years
The fire at an Indian temple yesterday morning was the latest in a grim series of tragedies at temples and during religious festivals in India. Here are some of the incidents.
January 2011: Some 102 Hindu devotees are killed in a stampede after an annual pilgrimage in Kerala.
November 2011: Sixteen people die in a stampede at a religious ceremony near Haridwar.
November 2012: Eighteen women and children crushed to death in a stampede when a rope bridge collapses during a festival in Bihar.
February 2013: At least 36 are trampled to death at the culmination of the Kumbh Mela religious festival.
October 2013: A stampede near a temple kills at least 115 in Madhya Pradesh.
January 2014: At least 18 people die in a stampede when a large crowd gathers to pay their last respects to a Muslim spiritual leader.
October 2014: Some 32 people are killed in a stampede at a festival in eastern India after rumours of a fire.
July 2015: A stampede on the banks of a holy river crushes 27 pilgrims.
"Huge pieces of concrete were flying through the air," said resident Jayashree Harikrishnan. "Chunks landed in our yard."
After the initial explosion, a power disruption hit the complex, further complicating rescue efforts, a witness was quoted as saying.
Firefighters and police battled through the night to douse the fire and rescue those trapped at the complex.
The chief doctor at Thiruvananthapuram Medical College in the state capital said some of those pouring into the hospital had suffered serious injuries "and many would require amputation" of limbs.
"Many have sustained burns of over 50 per cent and the condition of some of them is quite serious," Dr D. Mohandas told The Hindu newspaper.
The Kerala government has ordered an inquiry into the cause of the disaster and police have registered a criminal case against temple authorities, as well as the contractors involved in the fireworks display.
Police said top officials of the Puttingal Temple had gone missing. The Indian Express reported that one of the contractors involved in the fireworks display died in the blast, while his son suffered 50 per cent burns. The police have arrested five employees of the father-son contractor firm.
Public safety is a huge problem in India, where weak governance frequently results in the flouting of safety rules, leading to large numbers of fatalities. At least 26 people died and 89 were injured when an elevated highway under construction collapsed late last month in a crowded neighbourhood in Kolkata.
Mr K. M. Singh, a former member of the National Disaster Management Authority and a retired government bureaucrat, said public safety is not considered a high enough priority.
Punishments for violating safety rules are not a sufficient deterrent, he added, because cases drag on for years in the overcrowded courts, and in the end, the accused often do not get penalised.
"It needs a total mindset change from top to bottom," the New York Times quoted him as saying.
"The situation will not change unless the government enforces the norms in a very undiluted manner and takes serious punitive action wherever there are violations."