Indian police detain five after temple fire kills 110

Indian police detain five people following massive temple fire in Kerala

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.

An Indian officer said on Monday that Indian police have detained five people after a fire broke out at Puttingal temple in the Indian state of Kerala, killing 110 people.

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

People ran in panic as an 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.

People walk past debris after a fire broke out at a temple in Kollam in the southern state of Kerala, India. [Reuters]

Police officer Anantha Krishnan said the five people taken into custody were employees of a fireworks manufacturer who was given the contract for running the show at the Puttingal Devi temple.

Police are on the hunt for 15 members of the temple board who fled after the accident.

"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 kilometres (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 organisers threatened my family with harm if I continued with my campaign," she told reporters.

A retired judge has been appointed to investigate the events leading to the fire and take against those who had ignored the 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