Heavy toll in fireworks blast

TRAGIC AFTERMATH: Indian officials attempt to save survivors of the temple explosion in Kerala from a collapsed building. Picture: AFP
TRAGIC AFTERMATH: Indian officials attempt to save survivors of the temple explosion in Kerala from a collapsed building. Picture: AFP

Massive rescue bid follows fire that killed 102 and injured 280

A MASSIVE fire swept through a temple in southern India yesterday, killing more than 100 people and injuring scores more after they gathered to watch an unofficial fireworks display.

Thousands had packed overnight into the Hindu temple in Kerala state where fireworks appear to have landed on an unexploded stash, triggering a blast, in a tragedy Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called “shocking beyond words”.

Residents described hearing a huge explosion that shattered the windows of their homes some 100m away, before racing to look for survivors in the rubble.

“This morning when we came, there were body parts on the floor . . . on the roof there was a hand, an arm,” resident Anita Prakash said.

She had raised safety concerns about previous firework displays.

A team of specialist doctors and medicines were being deployed from New Delhi to help with the disaster, amid reports of horrific burns suffered by those caught in the blaze at the Puttingal Devi temple.

The navy and air force were also sending 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 said.

Firefighters and police had battled through the night at the temple in the coastal town of Paravur to douse the fire and rescue those trapped at the complex.

Video footage showed a series of large explosions and fireworks erupting as plumes of smoke filled the night air after about 3am (11.30pm Saturday SA time).

Concrete rubble and other debris was strewn at the complex in Kollam district, while police examined large unexploded bundles of fireworks.

Residents were photographed carrying the bloodied and injured in their arms from the site.

Others said bodies had been burnt beyond recognition, and concrete slabs had hit the crowd after the blast.

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

“I had denied permission for the fireworks because they had [requested a permit to conduct] it on a competition basis,” Kollam district official A Shainomal said.

The Kerala government ordered an inquiry into the cause of the disaster and Chandy’s spokesman said police had registered a criminal case.

State legislator N K Premachandran said it occurred during a fireworks competition between two groups at the temple, where thousands had gathered to watch.

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

“It happened after 75% of the fireworks [had exploded],” Premachandran said.

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% and the condition of some of them is quite serious,” Dr D Mohandas said.

Modi said he was flying to the scene.

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