Catastrophe strikes Kerala temple; 106 dead, 383 injured

Tragedy struck Puttingal Devi complex after spark from a cracker of an illegal fireworks show fell on a house in which firecrackers 10 times beyond permissible limit were stored

Kollam: Illegal fireworks show at a temple complex in Kerala yesterday resulted in a massive fire that claimed 106 lives and left 383 injured — of which several are critical.

A security personnel analyses the debris of a building destroyed in the mishap
A security personnel analyses the debris of a building destroyed in the mishap

The tragedy occurred around 3.30 am in the coastal town of Peravoor after a spark from an exploding firecracker landed on a building where a vast quantity of crackers were stored, setting off explosions and a massive blaze that brought down the structure, eyewitnesses said. Thousands were watching the fireworks spectacle, which began overnight, at that hour. The temple, dedicated to Puttingal Devi, usually opens at 5 am.

Hours later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to Kollam to express grief over the horrific tragedy. Officials said he was accompanied by 15 medical professionals.

Horror unfolds
Lallu S Pillai, a journalist who was on the terrace of a nearby house, said it took only a few minutes for the disaster to unfold. “Only half hour was left for the fireworks display to conclude when a spark from an exploding cracker landed on a concrete building where high potency crackers were stored. Within minutes, the building came crashing down and we felt the tremors. After that it was absolute chaos. Pieces of concrete were scattered all over the place,” he said.

Other eyewitness said several houses within the radius of half-a-kilometre were damaged, adding that people barely got time to run for cover to escape the exploding crackers and leaping flames.

Within hours, the Army, Air Force and Navy joined the rescue operations and to provide medical assistance. Ships sailed from Kochi while helicopters flew in from Tamil Nadu as well.

In the noon, police detained five employees of a father-son contractor duo who were reportedly responsible for the fireworks show. While the father suffered major burns, the son was rushed to the hospital with 50 per cent burns. The Kollam district authorities had denied permission to the contractor to hold a fireworks show.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has announced a judicial probe and an investigation by the Crime Branch of Kerala Police into the tragedy. At the Medical College in Thiruvananthapuram, about 60 km away, principal Thomas Mathew said about 45 people were admitted, mostly with broken hands and legs. Eleven people were brought dead and two died after reaching the hospital, he added. The injured were rushed other hospitals as well. The tragedy has triggered sorrow across the nation.

Though chief minister confirmed that permission for the fireworks display had been denied, Chandy said it would be difficult to impose a blanket ban on such shows across Kerala.

“This incident should open the eyes of all of us and all should cooperate with the guidelines to be worked out,” he said.

Governor P Sathasivam said such tragic incidents were a grim reminder of the urgent need to adhere to safety measures during festivals. Also, all political parties called off their election meetings to express solidarity with the victims of the mishap.

Compensations announced
Modi announced Rs 2 lakh each to the next of the kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 each to the injured.

PM Modi and CM Oommen Chandy take stock of the situati
PM Modi and CM Oommen Chandy take stock of the situati

Similarly, Chandy declared that families of the dead would get Rs 10 lakh each, Rs 2 lakh for seriously injured and Rs 50,000 for those who sustained minor in injuries. He said all the expenses of the injured would be borne by the government.

One booked for violating norms
One person, who had allegedly stored crackers and fireworks ten times more than the permissible limit, was booked yesterday by the police. Attingal police said they have registered a case against the licensee Surendran, who illegally stored about 150 kg of crackers and fireworks material at the storehouse.

Centre rushes burn specialists to Kollam
Union Health Ministry yesterday scrambled a team of 25 doctors and paramedics from AIIMS, Safdarjung and Ram Manohar Lohia hospitals to assist in relief work at the Puttingal Devi Temple complex in Kollam. The team comprises 11 experts from AIIMS, 10 from Safdarjung Hospital and five from Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, said health ministry officials.

Other festivities affected
The tragedy at 100-year-old Puttingal Devi Complex is likely to cast a shadow over Kerala’s famous Thrissur Pooram festival in which display of fireworks is a major attraction. The Thrissur District Adminis-tration will hold a meeting of all stakeholders to discuss safety measures to be taken to ensure a safe Pooram festival, commencing today.

Prez expresses ‘shock and distress’
President Pranab Mukherjee expressed ‘shock and distress’ over the death of 100 people in the fire tragedy and prayed for the speedy recovery of the injured. In his message to Kerala Governor, Mukherjee said, “I am shocked and distressed to learn about the incident at Kollam’s Puttingal temple this morning, as a result of which a large number of persons have lost their lives and others are injured. I understand relief operations are currently underway.”

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