NEW DELHI: Police were hunting Sunday for a suspect who illegally stored explosives in a restaurant building in central India that sparked a deadly blast, killing 88 people and injuring nearly 100.
The blast occurred in the town of Petlawad in Madhya Pradesh state’s Jhabua district Saturday morning when many office workers and schoolchildren were having breakfast in the restaurant and scores of laborers waited at a crowded bus stand near the building.
“The official death toll is 88, but the actual number may be higher, nearly 100. That will be confirmed soon,” senior Jhabua district police official Seema Alava told AFP by phone, adding that about 100 others were injured and rescue operations had been wrapped up.
She said police earlier thought the explosion was triggered by a gas cylinder, which detonated explosives that were stored illegally in the restaurant building and amplified its impact, destroying neighboring buildings and vehicles.
“It was the other way around. The explosives in the building exploded first… extreme heat sparked a urea nitrate chemical reaction and then that was it. Everything went off after that,” Alava said.
She said a suspect, Rajendra Kasawa, who has been on the run with his brothers since Saturday, had illegally stored urea, gelatine sticks, detonators and other explosives used for digging wells, construction and mining in a warehouse in the building.
Although Kasawa had a license for the material, Alava said he stored them “in an unauthorized way in a residential area” and therefore, been booked for culpable homicide and unlawful possession of explosives.
“We were up almost all night. We will find him, it is only a matter of time,” she said.
Photographs from Saturday’s scene showed corpses covered in dust and ash lying in the streets alongside the twisted wreckage of burned-out vehicles, and witnesses described seeing body parts strewn in the street.
Workers collected firewood and lit pyres that billowed black smoke into the sky as mass cremations of dozens of people were carried out late Saturday.
Jhabua district is home to several manganese and bauxite mines where many mine workers are hired on contract from Petlawad and its neighboring towns.