At least 100 people were killed and 200 others injured after a blaze broke out during a fireworks display in a Hindu temple in southern India early yesterday morning, officials said.
The fire is thought to have started when a spark from the unauthorised fireworks show ignited a separate batch of fireworks that were being stored at the Puttingal temple complex in Paravoor village, north of Kerala’s state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, said chief minister Oommen Chandy.
Thousands of people had been in the temple complex when an explosion erupted around 3am, officials said. The blaze then spread quickly through the temple, trapping devotees inside.
Most of the people died when the building where the fireworks were stored collapsed.
Local TV channels broadcast images of huge clouds of white smoke billowing from the temple, as fireworks were still going off in the night sky.
Successive explosions from the building storing the fireworks sent huge chunks of concrete flying for up to half a mile, according to resident Jayashree Harikrishnan.
The temple holds a competitive fireworks display every year, 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.
This year, district authorities denied permission for the fireworks display, Mr Chandy said. The state’s High Court had earlier mandated that fireworks must be stored more than 100 metres from temples – orders that were flouted at the Paravoor temple, a police official said.
Mr Chandy said: “We will be investigating how the orders were flouted and who was responsible for the decision to go ahead with the firework display.”
Krishna Das, a resident of Paravoor village, said he had started walking away from the temple as the fireworks display was about to end when a deafening explosion followed by a series of blasts went off.
“I had been in the temple just a few minutes before watching the fireworks,” he said.
He said he saw scores of people running away from the fire as chunks of concrete and plaster from the temple building rained down.
Mr Das said as soon as the first explosion was heard, a power cut hit the complex.
“It was complete chaos. 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 said.
At one of the main hospitals in Thiruvananthapuram, one doctor said that judging from injuries, a stampede was likely to have occurred at the temple.
Prime minister Narendra Modi, accompanied by doctors, was flying to Kerala to meet with the survivors and victims’ families.