Temple fire: Over 100 killed; 383 injured, Chandy orders probe

Kerala temple fire: Over 100 killed; 383 injured, Chandy orders judicial probe

Kollam, Apr 10, 2016, PTI: In one of the worst tragedies to hit Kerala, over 100 people were killed and 383 injured in a major fire that engulfed the 100-year-old Puttingal Devi Temple complex near here during a display of fireworks, for which no permission had been granted by the authorities.

A judicial probe by a retired High Court Judge was ordered by the state government along with an investigation by Crime Branch into the tragedy, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy announced after an emergency Cabinet meeting over the tragedy.

Chandy, who had earlier put the death toll at 102, told reporters after the meeting that as per the latest figures, 100 people have died and 383 persons were injured. The injured have been admitted to various hospitals, he said.

At least 60 bodies have been identified. Post-mortem will be held as early as possible and bodies handed over to the relatives without any delay, he said. Scientific examination would be done to identify bodies which have not yet been claimed, he said.

Chandy also announced ex-gratia relief of Rs 10 lakh to kin of each of those killed in fire tragedy, Rs 2 lakh for seriously injured and Rs 50,000 for those with minor injuries.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who termed the incident as “heart-rending” and “shocking”, announced Rs two lakh each as compensation for the next of the kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 each for the injured. He later rushed here to personally take stock of the situation and see the injured people.

The tragedy struck around 3.30 AM during display of fireworks at the temple complex, which is around 70 kms from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

The display, for which no permission had been granted by Revenue and police officials, had started at midnight as part of an annual festival and thousands of people had gathered to witness it.

The mishap occurred as sparks of the fireworks fell on the store room ‘Kambapura’ and the fire crackers kept there exploded with a deafening noise, police said.

The sound of the explosion could be heard over a radius of one kilometre and the whole area plunged into darkness as the power supply went off and people ran helter-skelter, eyewitnesses said.

Charred bodies and human remains were strewn around the temple complex after the fire tragedy. The Chief Minister said the District Collector of Kollam had not given permission to conduct the fireworks.

District Collector A Shainamol said “no permission for any kind of fireworks” was given. She said the temple authorities had asked for permission to conduct competitive fireworks which was denied. For normal fireworks, no permission was sought and hence there was no question of granting it, the DC said.

Police sources said a case has been registered against temple authorities and explosive licencees under section 307 (Attempt to murder), and 308 (Attempt to commit culpable homicide) of IPC and under section 4 of Explosives Substances Act.

The Centre rushed the Chief Controller of explosives safety organisation PESO to check if there was illegal usage of crackers or explosives at the temple in Kollam.

Meanwhile, the 15-member temple committee, which was in the precincts, when the mishap occurred, went missing soon after the incident, local people told PTI.

As tragedy struck, a massive effort was launched to rescue the people from the inferno and shift the injured people to hospitals, with the Navy and the Air Force pressing into service six helicopters and one Dornier aircraft.

The sound of the explosion could be heard over a radius of one kilometre and the whole area plunged into darkness as the power supply went off and people ran helter-skelter, eyewitnesses said.

Raju, a local resident staying near the temple, said he heard a massive sound and saw a huge ball of fire.

A large number of people died when concrete chunks and iron grills from the structures fell on those who had gathered to watch the festivities, said another eyewitness Vijayan.

Girija, whose house is situated about a kilometre away from the temple, said she felt tremors soon after a massive explosion.

Chandy said the state government had sought permission from the Election commission in the morning for necessary sanction to exclude treatment facilities to the injured from the ambit of the Election Code of Conduct and it had been received in principle. “We will inform them of today’s decisions,” he said.

“Strong measures are needed to regulate such fireworks display and everyone should cooperate. This accident should be an eye-opener. Strong guidleines have to brought in and steps taken to ensure that it is implemented,” Chandy said.

Chandy promised best medical treatment to the injured people and said they would be shifted to whichever hospitals their relatives wanted. “The government will take care of all the medical expenses,” he said.

“The condition of some of the injured is stated to be very serious and the injured have been admitted to various hospitals in and around Kollam and in Thiruvananthapuram,” the Kerala Chief Minister said.

Karnataka government said it would send a 10-member medical team with drugs and blood to Kollam in Kerala to provide relief to victims of the tragedy.

Chandy said the Prime Minister and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had called him to express their grief over the tragedy and the central government has promised all help.

BJP National President Amit Shah cancelled all his public functions in Kerala today and has rushed to the Trivandrum Medical college to visit the injured. The Indian Airforce has launched relief operations to help transport the seriously injured.

IAF is making all out efforts to transport the victims as soon as possible to the nearby hospitals at Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram, according to a defence press release.

A total of 10 transport aircraft and helicopters have been pressed into service. All the aircraft have been deployed in Air Ambulance role to ferry victims to nearby hospitals.

National Disaster Response Force teams from Arakkonam near Chennai in Tamil Nadu and medical teams are also being brought to provide timely medical relief to the victims.

The Indian Navy has deputed three Naval ships — INS Kabra, Kalpeni and INS Sukanya with medical stores to Kollam coast to give medical assistance to the injured. It is also deploying one Dornier and two ALH with medical teams from the southern naval command.

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