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India temple fire kills over 100 people watching fireworks

10 April 2016, 19:42

New Delhi - A massive fire swept through a temple in southern India on Sunday, killing more than 100 people and injuring scores more after they gathered to watch an unofficial fireworks display.

Thousands had packed overnight into the Hindu temple in Kerala state where fireworks appear to have landed on an unexploded stash, triggering a blast, in a tragedy Prime Minister Narendra Modi said was "shocking beyond words".

Residents described hearing a huge explosion that shattered the windows of their homes some 100 metres (109 yards) away, before racing to look for survivors in the rubble.

"This morning when we came, there were body parts on the floor...on the roof there was a hand, an arm," local Anita Prakash told the CNN-IBN network, adding that she had raised safety concerns about previous firework displays.

A team of specialist doctors and medicines were being deployed from New Delhi to help with the disaster, amid reports of horrific burns suffered by those caught in the blaze at the Puttingal Devi temple.

The navy and air force were also sending helicopters to evacuate the most critically injured, officials said.

"It has been confirmed that 102 people were killed and 280 injured and admitted to various hospitals. Now our focus is to provide the best treatment to the injured," Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy told reporters.

Firefighters and police had battled through the night at the temple in the coastal town of Paravur to douse the fire and rescue those trapped at the complex.

Video footage showed a series of large explosions and fireworks erupting as plumes of smoke filled the night air after about 3am (2130 GMT Saturday). Concrete rubble and other debris were strewn at the complex in Kollam district, while police examined large unexploded bundles of fireworks.

Local residents were photographed carrying the bloodied and injured in their arms from the site. Others were quoted saying bodies had been burnt beyond recognition, and concrete slabs had hit the crowd after the explosion.

Chandy and other officials said the temple had gone ahead with the fireworks display despite being denied permission.

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"I had denied permission for this fireworks because they had asked permission for conducting it on a competition basis," Kollam district collector A. Shainomal told the NDTV network.

The Kerala government ordered an inquiry into the cause of the disaster and Chandy's spokesman told AFP that police have registered a criminal case against temple authorities.

Local lawmaker N.K. Premachandran said it occurred during a fireworks competition between two groups at the temple where thousands had gathered to watch. One firework landed on a building that was storing the rest of the pyrotechnic material, triggering the explosion, he said.

"It has happened after 75 percent of the fireworks were (already) burst," Premachandran, state MP for Kollam, told NDTV.

- Severe burn injuries -

The chief doctor at Thiruvananthapuram Medical College in the state capital said some of those pouring into the hospital had suffered serious injuries "and many would require amputation" of limbs.

"Many have sustained burns of over 50 percent and the condition of some of them is quite serious," D. Mohandas told the Hindu newspaper.

Premier Modi said he was flying to the scene, announcing 200,000 rupees ($3,005) in compensation for the families of those killed and 50,000 rupees for those injured.

"Fire at temple in Kollam is heart-rending & shocking beyond words," Modi tweeted.

Navy spokesman D.K Sharma said the helicopters would transport the injured to Thiruvananthapuram and also to the city of Kochi where the navy operates a hospital, with some of the injured currently being treated at smaller medical centres.

Fires and stampedes are not uncommon at temples and during religious occasions, often because of poor security arrangements and lax safety standards.

The fire comes as Kerala -- governed by the Congress party, which is in opposition at national level -- heads to the polls in one of five state elections being held in India this month and next.


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