An annual temple festival in the southern Indian state of Kerala turned into a major tragedy early Sunday morning with 98 persons dying after stored explosives meant for pyrotechnics caught fire, leading to the collapse of a building.
The death toll is expected to rise as many persons were feared trapped inside the collapsed structure. The accident took place during the Meenabharani celebrations at the Paravur Puttingal Devi temple in Kerala’s Kollam district, less than 60 kilometres northwest of the state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
“The explosion was caused when the storehouse of the fireworks materials caught fire. In the impact of the explosion, the office building of the Travancore Devaswom Board near the storehouse was blown off,” The Hindu newspaper reported.
While the rescue operations were on after the fire, the structure inside which the the explosives were stored collpased, leading to even more deaths.
While the number of deceased varied across news reports from between 80 to over 100, officials in Kerala put the figure at 98 dead and 337 injured—reported till around 2.30pm on Sunday.
Sudhir A, a civil police officer at Paravur, said the explosion was reported at 3.30am. “The injured have been shifted some 13 government and private hospitals in Kollam, besides the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College,” Sudhir said.
While reports said that the fireworks were illegal as the government had not granted the requisite permission, top officials of the Puttingal temple management are said to have gone underground following the incident.
Incidentally, this is not the first time religious festivals have resulted in mass tragedies in Kerala.
Leaders from across the political spectrum have made a beeline for the site—Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi are scheduled to visit Paravur, while the state chief minister Oommen Chandy has already paid a visit.
The state legislative election in Kerala has been scheduled for May.