More than 100 are dead and 540 injured after a devastating fireworks explosion at a packed temple in India, agencies report. The fire started at 3:15 am local time when a spark from the unauthorised fireworks ignited a seperate batch of fireworks that were being stored in a temple in Kerala.
Thousands were packed into the complex when an explosion erupted around 3am, spreading throughout the temple and trapping helpless devotees within. Most were killed when the building where the fireworks were stored collapsed. Many of the dead were charred beyond recognition and will have to be identified by DNA tests, according to Kerala police chief TP Senkumar.
The local authorities had denied permission for the display to be held this year because of safety concerns and complaints from residents, and the High Court had earlier legislated that fireworks must be stored more than 100 metres from temples. These orders were flouted at the Paravoor complex.
The worshippers were celebrating Vishu, a Keralan festival marking the Hindu new year. Paravoor resident Krishna Das was walking away from the temple as the fireworks display was about to end when a deafening explosion followed by a series of blasts shook the complex.
He told Associated Press: “It was complete chaos. People were screaming in the dark. Ambulance sirens went off and in the darkness no one knew how to find their way out of the complex.” Hundreds of people started to run, chased by fire, chunks of concrete and plaster from the temple building – one of the victims was said to be a hiker hit by a piece of flying concrete 1km from the scene.
Firefighters and police battled through the night to douse the fire and resuce those trapped. As morning broke, hundreds arrived at the temple in a desperate search for relatives and friends while emergency services used bulldozers to clear the area. A team of specialist doctors was also sent from Delhi after reports of horiffic burns suffered by those injured.
The chief doctor at Thiruvananthapuram Medical College in the state capital said “many would require amputation” of limbs. “Many have sustained burns of over 50 percent and the condition of some of them is quite serious,” Dr Mohandas added. At one of the main hospitals in Thiruvananthapuram, senior physician Thomas Mathew said that judging from injuries, a stampede was also likely to have occurred at the temple.
“There were few women or children among the injured. Most were men,” Mathew said. Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi has offered his condolences and plans to visit the site of the fire. He tweeted: “I will be reaching Kerala soon to take stock of the situation arising due to the unfortunate fire tragedy.”
He added that the incident was “heart-rending and shocking beyond words.” His office said those injured in the fire will receive 50,000 rupees in compensation.