More than 100 killed in Kerala temple fire
A MASSIVE fire swept through a temple in south-west India's Kerala state yesterday, killing more then 100 people and injuring at least 350 who had gathered for a fireworks display to mark the local Vishu Hindu festival.
Thousands of devotees had packed into the Puttingal Devi temple in the coastal district of Kollam, about 70km south-east of the state capital Thiruvananthapuram, reported Reuters.
The yearly fireworks display began at midnight and went on for about three hours before tragedy struck.
Officials said a spark had ignited a stack of fireworks, triggering the explosion.
According to the local Manorama Online, more people were killed by the collapse of a temple administration building caused by the huge blast than directly by the explosion.
The Malayalam news website also said five people were taken into custody, apparently for responsibility over the incident.
Reports said the accident site was a horrible scene with mutilated bodies and body parts strewn all around.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to Kollam yesterday afternoon with a team of doctors to help state authorities cope with the large number of injured people.
Mr Modi had faced public criticism in the past for failing to respond quickly to disasters, such as the floods in Chennai late last year.
Two navy ships also sailed to Kollam with medical supplies after New Delhi ordered the military to help.
With Kerala in the midst of an election for a new state assembly, the temple fire quickly turned into a political issue as local leaders demanded an investigation into the fireworks display.
In Kerala, Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party trails its rivals - the state's ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) coalition as well as the Communists.
Kerala's Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, from the UDF, said the Kollam district administration had denied the temple authorities permission to carry out the fireworks display, and that the government will investigate how they went ahead.
"There was no permission to even store the fireworks," he added.
The administration had rejected the application after it became clear that the temple authorities were intending to conduct a fireworks contest and not a display, reported Manorama.
The police have registered a case against the temple authorities for negligence.
A local netizen pointed out that a similar fireworks accident happened in 1990 in nearby Malanada Temple, which killed 26 people.
Kerala is studded with temples managed by rich and powerful trusts that often flout local regulations.
Each year, the temples carry out fireworks displays, often competing to stage the most spectacular ones.
The Puttingal temple is one of the oldest in the state. It was built on the site of an ant hill where locals believe a goddess appeared centuries ago.