NEW DELHI: A massive fire swept through a temple in southern India on Sunday, killing more than 100 people after thousands gathered to watch an illegal fireworks display.
More than 280 others were injured in the fire that engulfed the Hindu temple complex in Kerala state, where crowds had built up during the night for a festival that boasted the fireworks show.
Local residents were photographed carrying the bloodied and injured in their arms from the site, while a man whose bloodied hand was heavily bandaged was seen trying to calm a screaming toddler outside one hospital.
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 also 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.
Television footage showed a series of large explosions and fireworks erupting as plumes of smoke filled the night air after about 3 a.m. (2130 GMT Saturday). Concrete rubble and other debris was strewn at the complex at daybreak, while police examined large unexploded bundles of fireworks.
Chandy said temple officials had gone ahead with the fireworks display despite being denied permission because of safety concerns.
“That is correct. District collector of Kollam denied sanction for this fireworks (display),” Chandy said when asked whether permission had been given.
The Kerala government ordered an inquiry into the cause of the disaster. A local lawmaker said it occurred during a fireworks competition between two groups. One firework landed on a building that was storing the rest of the pyrotechnic material, setting off a chain reaction.
“It has happened after 75 percent of the fireworks were (already) burst. It was actually fortunate, otherwise the casualties would have been much, much, much more,” N.K. Premachandran, state MP for Kollam district where the accident occurred, told the NDTV network.
‘Shocking beyond words’
The chief doctor at Thiruvanan-thapuram 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.
Prime Minister Narendra 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.
“Arranging for immediate shifting of those critically injured via helicopter.”
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 small local medical centers.
Fires and stampedes are not uncommon at temples and during religious occasions, often because of poor security arrangements and lax safety standards.
Several thousand people had gathered at the temple for the fireworks show, which is held every year at the temple, an official said.
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.