90 killed in India as explosives devastate restaurant

POLICE in central India are looking for a man being blamed for a massive explosion at a restaurant that killed 90 people, as angry residents protested at the way the authorities are handling the case.

A crowd gathers at the site of the blast in Petlawad, where illegally stored detonators exploded. Picture: AP

A cooking gas cylinder exploded at the restaurant on Saturday morning, triggering a second blast of mine detonators stored next to the establishment, in the town of Petlawad in Madhya Pradesh state.

The state’s top elected official, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, had to face about 50 angry protesters when he visited the site of the explosions. The protesters, shouting slogans and waving black flags, forced Chouhan to step out of his car and listen to their complaints against local authorities for failing to enforce safety regulations.

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Police officer Kamlesh Bamaniya said the protesters were also angry that Petlawad police had failed to arrest Rajendra Kashawa, a contractor who was accused of illegally storing the detonators.

Bamaniya said Saturday that Kashawa had died in the explosions. But on Sunday, he said police had information that he had absconded. Police have filed a case of criminal negligence against Kashawa and are looking for him, Bamaniya said. Kashawa had been given a licence to purchase detonators for his business of digging wells, but had stored the detonators illegally in a room adjacent to the restaurant, Bamaniya said.

Residents said that they had earlier complained to Petlawad town authorities about Kashawa illegally storing explosives in the building, but that no action was taken against him, television channel CNN-IBN reported.

The restaurant, located next to the main bus station in Petlawad, was crowded with people having breakfast when the blasts occurred. The building where the restaurant was located and an adjacent building were destroyed in the explosions.

Rescue workers toiling through the day on Saturday extricated 90 bodies from under a huge heap of rubble.

Most of those killed in the explosions were poor labourers who were in the restaurant drinking tea as they waited to be hired by contractors to work in nearby manganese mines.

Around 100 other people were injured in the blasts and were taken to hospitals. At least 20 of them were in critical condition, Arun Sharma, a Madhya Pradesh state health official, said yesterday. Mine operators are supposed to follow guidelines on the safe storage of detonators and other explosive materials but they often ignore the rules and district authorities rarely act against them, Bamaniya said.

The explosive materials are used by miners for blasting operations and for digging wells.

Petlawad is about 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of New Delhi.

The blast comes just weeks after a similar explosion in the Chinese city of Tianjin, which killed 173 people, the incidents highlighting the risks of handling dangerous chemicals in Asia’s two biggest economies, where explosives are often stored close to residential areas.