KOLLAM, India: Police arrested seven people on Tuesday over a massive explosion and fire during a banned fireworks display that claimed more than 100 lives in southern India, a senior officer said.
The blast ripped through concrete buildings and ignited a fire at a Hindu temple complex in Kerala state where thousands had gathered early Sunday to watch the display.
Police had taken 13 people into custody earlier in the day, most of whom were temple officials who surrendered to police Tuesday after they went missing following the tragedy in Kerala’s Kollam district.
The remainder were temple officials and contractors for the fireworks display whom police picked up Tuesday for questioning.
“We have formally arrested seven of the 13,” D. Sreedharan, superintendent of Kerala’s police crime branch, told AFP by telephone.
“We are producing them in front of the local magistrate at the moment… more arrests will follow,” he added.
All the accused face a series of initial charges, including culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
As police stepped up their investigation, the Kerala government said the death toll from the disaster had risen to 112 after one more person died of his injuries.
Thousands had packed the temple to celebrate the Hindu New Year festival of Vishu when a stray firework apparently landed on a stockpile of them, triggering the massive blast.
Witnesses told how the force of the explosion sent concrete slabs and roof tiles slamming into the panicked crowd of onlookers.
Firefighters and police battled to douse the fire that broke out after the explosion and to rescue those trapped at the complex, but some victims were charred beyond recognition.
Police said they were investigating who was responsible for holding the fireworks display even though local authorities had refused permission for it.
Fires and stampedes are not uncommon at temples and during religious occasions, often because of poor security arrangements and lax safety standards.
Kerala’s High Court on Tuesday slapped a ban on highly popular fireworks displays at all places of worship in the state after sunset. It made the decision after a judge wrote to the court seeking action in the wake of the tragedy, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
The Kerala government has ordered a judicial inquiry into the disaster, which comes as the southern state heads to the polls next month. AFP