At least 110 dead after massive temple fire in India

More than 110 people dead, 380 injured after fireworks cause blaze at Puttingal temple in India, state's top official says

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

People walk past debris after a fire broke out at a temple in Kollam in the southern state of Kerala, India, April 10, 2016.

Updated Apr 11, 2016

At least 110 people dead, 380 injured after illegal fireworks caused a massive blast at Puttingal temple in the Indian state of Kerala, state's top official said.

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy stated that the district official had refused the fireworks display due to safety concerns but the temple officials ignored the decision.

"That is correct. District collector of Kollam denied sanction for this fireworks (display)," he said.

The fire erupted at the Puttingal temple at around 3:30 am on Sunday (22:15 GMT Saturday) as Hindu worshippers celebrated the Vishu festival at the temple.

People ran in panic as the initial massive blast cut off power in the complex, while other explosions sent flames and debris raining down, a witness said.

"It was complete chaos," said Krishna Das of Paravoor.

"People were screaming in the dark. Ambulance sirens went off, and in the darkness no one knew how to find their way out of the complex," he added.

"During the time of the fireworks, it is believed that a spark flew onto the panel where the pyrotechnics were being kept and then it all exploded," assistant police commissioner Kollam district K. Laljy said.

More than 80 bodies have been identified, officials said. TimesNow, an Indian television news channel, put the death toll at 112.

Kerala's Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala has ordered an investigation into the deadly fire.

Police are on the hunt for 15 members of the temple board who fled after the accident. Police were investigating for possible charges of culpable homicide, punishable with life imprisonment, and illegally storing a cache of explosives.

"The temple holds an annual firework display every year. We're doing our best to rescue those still trapped," said Mr Chennithala

"Now the situation is under control... the police are on the spot."

State Health Minister V.S. Sivakumar stated many people are under treatment in hospitals at Kollam. "The health department is fully geared to provide the necessary treatment.”

More than 80 bodies have been identified, officials said. TimesNow, an Indian television news channel, put the death toll at 112.

Das said ambulances carried the injured to hospitals in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of Paravoor, as well as the nearby city of Kollam.

Villagers and police pulled many of the injured out from under slabs of concrete and twisted steel girders.

TV channels showed video of huge clouds of white smoke billowing from the temple, as fireworks were still going off in the sky.

One of the explosions sent huge chunks of concrete flying as far as a kilometer (half a mile), a resident said.

This year, however, authorities in Kollam district had denied temple officials permission to hold the fireworks display, said A. Shainamol, the district's top official.

"They were clearly told that no permission would be given for any kind of fireworks," Shainamol told reporters.

Permission was denied over fears the competing sides would try to outdo each other with more and more fireworks and because the temple gets overcrowded during the festival, she said.

Anitha Prakash, said she and some other residents have been trying since 2012 to stop the fireworks display which goes on for hours. "We petitioned state authorities this year also. Some of the organizers threatened my family with harm if I continued with my campaign," she told reporters.

A retired judge had been appointed to investigate the events leading to the fire and that action would be taken against those who had ignored rules.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday described the fire as “heartrending and shocking."

The  Puttingal  temple is located in Kollam, nearly 70 km from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

TRTWorld and agencies