Massive fire in crowded India temple kills scores

A fire and explosions during a fireworks display kills at least 106 and injures over 300 in southern Kerala state.

A massive fire has swept through a temple in the southern Indian state of Kerala during a fireworks display, killing at least 106 people and injuring more than 350 others.

The fire broke out on Sunday morning, officials said, when a spark from the show ignited a separate pile of fireworks that was being stored at the Puttingal temple complex in the coastal town of Paravur in Kollam district.

Thousands of people were packed into the temple when an explosion was heard at about 3am local time. The blaze then spread quickly through the building, trapping people inside.

Local TV channels showed footage of huge clouds of white smoke billowing from the temple, as fireworks continued to explode in the night sky.

Kerala’s Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala told Reuters news agency that 60 of the 100 dead had been identified while the number of people admitted to hospitals in Kollam and the state capital had risen to 383.

Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting from Delhi, said daily celebrations were being held in the country to mark a Hindu festival.

“Some of the celebrations take place without the authorities’ permission and without taking into consideration safety measures, which is what happened [on Sunday],” she said.

Kerala’s Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala told Reuters news agency that 60 of the 100 dead had been identified  [Sivaram/Reuters]

The fire came as Kerala – governed by the Congress party, which is in opposition at a national level – prepares to head to the polls in one of five state elections being held in India this month and next.

“The site has become a campaigning hotspot for many of the politicians who arrived at the scene of the fire,” Gopalan said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to Kollam with a team of doctors to help state authorities cope with the large number of injured.

“The fire at the temple in Kollam is heart-rending and shocking beyond words,” he said in a Twitter post. “My thoughts are with families of the deceased and prayers with the injured.”

Concrete hurled

Modi announced 200,000 rupees (about $3,000) in compensation for the families of those killed and 50,000 rupees for those injured.

Kerala’s Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the district administration had denied the temple authorities permission for the display and the government would investigate why they went ahead anyway.

“There was no permission to even store the fireworks,” he said.

Rescuers on Sunday morning were sifting through the wreckage looking for survivors, while diggers cleared the debris and ambulances ferried the injured to nearby hospitals.

The chief doctor at Thiruvananthapuram Medical College in the state capital said some of those pouring into the hospital had suffered serious injuries “and many would require amputation” of limbs.

“Many have sustained burns of over 50 percent and the condition of some of them is quite serious,” D Mohandas told the Hindu newspaper.

Navy spokesman DK Sharma said the helicopters would transport the injured to Thiruvananthapuram and also to the city of Kochi where the navy operates a hospital, with some of the injured currently being treated at small local medical centres.

Every year, the temple holds a competitive fireworks display, with different groups putting on successive light shows for thousands of devotees gathered for the last day of a seven-day festival honouring the goddess Bhadrakali, a southern Indian incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali.

Fires and stampedes are not uncommon at temples and during religious occasions, often because of poor security arrangements and lax safety standards.

Earlier this month, a flyover under construction in the eastern city of Kolkata collapsed killing more than 20 people, raising questions regarding safety measures.

People walk past debris after a fire broke out at a temple in Kollam in the southern state of Kerala [Sivaram V/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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