In the worst-ever pyrotechnics tragedy to strike Kerala, 110 persons were killed and close to 400 injured, many of them grievously, on Sunday.
Disaster struck the crowded precincts of the Puttingal Devi Temple at Paravur, south of Kollam, around 3.30 a.m. when an entire dump of fire crackers meant to be burst to mark the conclusion of the Meena-Bharani festival exploded, killing over 40 persons instantly, maiming many more and causing extensive damage to nearby buildings.
The State government has announced a judicial inquiry and a Crime Branch investigation into the disaster.
Eyewitnesses said disaster struck when a cracker meant to explode in the air fell to the ground, sending sparks flying in all directions. The sparks reached the storehouse, igniting fireworks stored there. The explosion that followed brought down a building and caused damage to several structures in the vicinity.
The explosion was followed by power disruption, which left the crowd clueless about the magnitude of the tragedy for some time. However, the locals swung into action, extricating bodies from the debris and pulling out the injured, many of whom did not survive the journey to hospitals.
While the majority were admitted to the general hospital and private hospitals in Kollam city, 12 of the injured were rushed to the Thiruvananthapuram medical college hospital and to some private hospitals in the capital.
The Kollam district administration had denied permission for the fireworks display based on reports from the local police that the temple authorities planned to hold a competitive pyrotechnics display. However, the temple authorities went ahead with the display after giving much publicity to the event. People from neighbouring districts had converged on the temple to witness the show.
The Paravur police have registered a case against the temple authorities and the fireworks contractor, who is stated to have suffered 80 per cent burns and is undergoing treatment at the medical college hospital.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled all his programmes and rushed to Kollam with a team of medical experts from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
After a visit to the disaster spot and hospitals, accompanied by Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda and discussions with Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, he announced all support for the State. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also visited the temple precincts and hospitals.
At an emergency meeting, the State Cabinet announced ex gratia of Rs. 10 lakh to the kin of the deceased and Rs. 2 lakh to the seriously injured. Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister announced that the Centre would pay ex gratia of Rs. 2 lakh to the kin of the deceased.