New Delhi / AFP
A massive fire swept through a temple in southern India on Sunday, killing more than 100 people and injuring scores more after they gathered to watch an unofficial fireworks display.
Thousands had packed overnight into the Hindu temple in Kerala state where fireworks appear to have landed on an unexploded stash, triggering a blast, in a tragedy Prime Minister Narendra Modi said was “shocking beyond words”. Residents described hearing a huge explosion that shattered the windows of their homes some 100 metres away, before racing to look for survivors in the rubble.
“This morning when we came, there were body parts on the floor…on the roof there was a hand, an arm,” local Anita Prakash told the CNN-IBN network, adding that she had raised safety concerns about previous firework displays. 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 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. Video footage showed a series of large explosions and fireworks erupting as plumes of smoke filled the night air after about 3am. Concrete rubble and other debris were strewn at the complex in Kollam district, while police examined large unexploded bundles of fireworks.
Local residents were photographed carrying the bloodied and injured in their arms from the site. Others were quoted saying bodies had been burnt beyond recognition, and concrete slabs had hit the crowd after the explosion.