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.