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Kollam temple: India fireworks blast kills at least 100

Posted on 10th April 2016 at 15:29pm

An explosion and blaze sparked by fireworks have killed at least 100 people at a Hindu temple in the Indian state of Kerala, police say.

The fireworks exploded as thousands of people had gathered to celebrate a local new year festival. More than 200 were injured. A building at the temple then collapsed, causing many of the deaths.

An investigation has been ordered as officials say permits for the display had been refused after safety fears.

The explosion happened at about 03:30 (22:00 GMT Saturday), hours after the event started, in the coastal town of Paravur, in Kollam district. There were scenes of chaos as emergency teams were slow in reaching the area, witnesses said. Rescue teams used bulldozers to clear the area looking for survivors. A team of specialist doctors has been sent from Delhi amid reports of horrific burns suffered by those wounded. Several people were said to be in critical condition in hospitals.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has flown to Kerala, said the incident was "heart-rending and shocking beyond words".

Many of the dead were charred beyond recognition and would have to be identified by DNA tests, Kerala police chief TP Senkumar said. The fireworks had been stored ready for celebrations of a temple festival.

The local district magistrate had denied permission for the display to be held this year because of safety concerns and complaints from residents about the danger of these fireworks in the past.

A power outage hit the complex after the first explosion, further complicating rescue efforts, a witness said. Houses in the area of the temple were also said to have been badly damaged by the blast. "Our house is unliveable. Everything is blown off... If we had stayed in our house last night, we would have all died", resident Anitha Prakash told BBC Hindi.

One of the victims was said to be a biker hit by a piece of flying concrete 1km (0.6 miles) away from the scene. "Huge pieces of concrete were flying through the air," said resident Jayashree Harikrishnan. "Chunks landed in our yard."

The Kerala government has ordered an investigation, and the police are planning to take action against the temple administration and the contractors who were putting on the display. "There was no permission to even store the fireworks," Kerala's Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said.

Religious festivals incidents in India

  • January 2005: Up to 300 people die in a stampede during a Hindu pilgrimage to the remote Mandhar Devi temple in Maharashtra state
  • August 2008: At least 140 people die in a stampede at a hilltop Hindu temple in Himachal Pradesh during the Shravan Navratras festival
  • September 2008: Stampede at the Chamunda Devi Hindu temple inside Jodhpur's Mehrangarh Fort kills more than 220
  • January 2011: More than 100 die at stampede at a festival in Kerala state
  • October 2013: Stampede at a Hindu festival in Madhya Pradesh kills at least 115
  • July 2015: At least 27 pilgrims die in a stampede on the banks of a holy river in Andhra Pradesh at the start of the Maha Pushkaralu festival

The incident happened as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in Mumbai for a seven-day tour of India and Bhutan.

They had been informed about it and sent their thoughts to all who were assisting the victims, Kensington Palace said.

Fireworks and firecrackers are commonly used at temple festivals and other public events and accidents are not uncommon. Kerala is in the midst of an election for a new state assembly but political parties have called off campaigning as a mark of respect for the victims. "Fireworks house became slaughter house," is the headline in one local daily, Deepika, while another, Mathrubhumi, declares Paravur a "disaster zone".

It is simply the state's "biggest tragedy", according to local news channel Manorama News.

Amid the grieving, Hindi channel IBN7 looks for "the culprit" while another Hindi channel, Zee News, demands to know, "Who is the murderer of the pilgrims?", and wonders, "When will we learn from past tragedies?"

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Reproduced under licence from BBC News © 2016 BBC

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