Kollam (Kerala): Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and other leaders will be arriving here on Sunday to visit the Paravur Puttingal temple where 96 people lost their lives following an accident caused by a firework display.
The temple is located in the coastal town of Paravur here in Kollam district, about 60 km from state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
More than 350 people have been injured in the ghastly accident and being treated in 12 hospitals in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts.
Prime Minister Modi spoke to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy who is on his way to the accident site.
"I will be reaching Kerala soon to take stock of the situation arising due to the unfortunate fire tragedy in Kollam," Modi tweeted.
The prime minister has announced Rs.two lakh each as compensation to the next of the kin of the dead and Rs.50,000 to the injured.
Governor of Kerala P. Sathasivam has expressed deep sense of sorrow, shock and concern over the tragic deaths in the accident.
"Such tragic incidents are also a grim reminder of the urgent need to adhere to safety measures during festivals," Sathasivam said in a statement.
Chandy told IANS that an emergency cabinet meeting will be held at Kollam on Sunday afternoon to decide on how to go about the investigation into the tragedy and related matters.
The chief minister tweeted that he had asked the chief secretary to write to the Election Commission seeking permission to help the victims as it is election time in the state.
Rahul Gandhi spoke to Chandy and expressed grief over the tragedy.
Kerala's Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala told reporters at the accident site that the government is focussed on ensuring that all necessary help is provided to the victims who are suffering.
"On things like whether necessary permissions were obtained for the firework display and such issues will be dealt with when the cabinet meets later in the day at Kollam. Now our priority is to see all help is provided to the grieving," said Chennithala.
The incident occurred around 3.30 a.m. on Sunday.
Speaking to IANS, Lallu S. Pillai, a journalist covering the temple festival for Asianet News TV, said it only took a few minutes for the disaster to take place.
"I was watching the event unfold about 150 metres from the terrace of my friend's home. The firework display was about half an hour to finish when a spark of an already lit cracker landed in the concrete building that stored the high potency crackers. In few minutes, the building came crashing down and we felt the place shaking," said Pillai.
"Then it was absolute chaos and pieces of concrete were scattered all over the place and some of it were found about 500 metres away in a taxi stand," Pillai added.
Numerous homes within half a kilometre radius of the accident site have been damaged.
Thiruvananthapuram Medical College principal Thomas Mathew said about 100 people are being treated at the hospital.
"Forty five of them have been admitted and most of them are being treated for broken bones in their hands and legs. Eleven of them were brought dead, while another two died after reaching here," said Mathew.
All the leading political parties have as a mark of respect cancelled all their election programmes for the day.
"We have asked our party workers to see that they provide all the help and solace to the victims," CPI-M state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan told reporters after visiting the injured in the hospital in the capital city.
The BJP has cancelled all the programme of its national president Amit Shah, who was to launch his party's election campaign on Sunday at Pathanamthitta and is reaching the state capital to visit the injured.
The state Congress party president V.M. Sudheeran has asked his party workers to call off all election related work planned for Sunday.
The fire has been brought under control and heavy equipment machineries are now working to clear the debris.
Kollam Lok Sabha member N.K. Premachandran who visited the site demanded that all those who have been injured should be given free treatment with adequate compensation.