Police in India are hunting for a suspect who illegally stored explosives in a restaurant building in central Madhya Pradesh state that sparked a deadly blast, killing 88 people and injuring nearly 100.

The blast occurred in the town of Petlawad in Jhabua district on Saturday morning when many office workers and schoolchildren were having breakfast in the restaurant and scores of labourers waited at a crowded bus stand nearby.

A senior police office in the area, Seema Alava said a suspect, Rajendra Kasawa, who has been on the run with his brothers since Saturday, had illegally stored urea, gelatine sticks, detonators and other explosives used for digging wells, construction and mining in a warehouse in the building.

Although Kasawa had a licence for the material, Alava said he stored them "in an unauthorised way in a residential area" and therefore, been booked for culpable homicide and unlawful possession of explosives.

"We were up almost all night. We will find him, it is only a matter of time," she said.

Alava said the death toll from the blast could be higher than has previously been reported.

"The official death toll is 88, but the actual number may be higher, nearly 100. That will be confirmed soon," Alava told AFP news agency, adding that about 100 others were injured and rescue operations had been wrapped up.

She said police earlier thought the explosion was triggered by a gas cylinder, which detonated explosives that were stored illegally in the restaurant building and amplified its impact, destroying neighbouring buildings and vehicles.

"It was the other way around. The explosives in the building exploded first... extreme heat sparked a urea nitrate chemical reaction and then that was it. Everything went off after that," Alava said.

Source: Agencies