52 charred to death in firecracker factory fire

At least 52 people were killed when a powerful explosion yesterday tore through one of the biggest fireworks factories in Tamil Nadu, triggering a major fire.

So powerful was the ear-splitting blast that 40 of the 48 sheds in the sprawling warehouse in Sivakasi, a firecracker manufacturing hub about 480 km from Chennai, were gutted in no time.

Fire zone: Sivakasi is one of the oldest and biggest firecracker manufacturing hubs in India. Nearly 90% of the country’s fireworks are made in Sivakasi along with 80% of the safety matches. Representation Pic/AFP

The fire quickly engulfed the entire factory of Om Shakthi Fireworks because a huge amount of raw materials and firecrackers were being readied for the upcoming festival season. A local official maintained that more than 100 people were trapped initially in the premises.

According to media reports, only 53 escaped the tragedy. Tamil television channels showed intermittent explosions in the area, and thick smoke rising into the sky.

Villagers ran with the the injured in their arms or in cloth sheets in the absence of stretchers. Thirteen fire tenders battled the flames while more than 25 ambulances ferried the injured to hospitals.

Industry officials said from Sivakasi that the cracker unit was being run by a person who had taken the factory on lease from the owner of Om Shakthi Fireworks. “This is common. The owner may not be in a position to run the factory and will lease it out to others. It is the duty of the leasee to take care of safety operations,” said V Ramamoorthy, managing director at Jubliant Crackers.

Crackers are produced in small rooms with space for not more than four people. The rooms have four doors so that workers can rush out in case of any emergency.

Activists say that cracker units employ inexperienced workers during the Diwali season in order to meet the soaring demand, at times resulting in accidents. All fire tenders and ambulances in the area were pressed into service, but it took time to put out the blaze. Police said the exact numbers inside the factory was not known. Normally, there are 300 workers in a firecracker factory.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister
J Jayalalithaa announced a solatium of Rs 2 lakh to the families of the dead, Rs 25,000 to the severely injured and Rs 10,000 to those with minor injuries. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed deep shock over the tragedy and announced ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh to the next of the kin of each deceased.  

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