More than 100 people were killed and about 150 injured when a massive blast triggered by mining explosives ripped through a packed restaurant in Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua district on Saturday.
Witnesses first heard a small blast in a godown where gelatine sticks were stored just minutes before the powerful explosion tore through the store and the nearby restaurant in the town of Petlawad, reducing these buildings to rubble and leaving dozens buried under the debris.
"There was a huge ball of dust around and I saw people lying on top of one another, many of them dead and some screaming with pain. There was blood, gore and body parts all lying in a 50-ft radius," said Sharmila Kataria, a local resident.
Police and government officials said the casualties were high because the blast occurred at around 8:30 am when many office workers and schoolchildren were having breakfast in the restaurant. A large number of labourers waiting at a crowded bus stop in close proximity was another reason for the high death toll.
Nearly 10 hours later, the smell of death still hung in the air and an uneasy silence prevailed as groups of people huddled on some streets whispering about one of the biggest explosions the town has ever seen.
"Initially, we heard the sound of crackers from a house that also has two shops on the ground floor. Later, when someone opened its shutter, a huge explosion took place, forcing people to run for cover," Balram, an injured labourer, told PTI in Jhabua district hospital.
Explosion in MP's Jhabua kills over 30 people
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed pain over the loss of lives in the explosion in Madhya Pradesh. "Extremely pained at the loss of lives due to the cylinder blast in Jhabua. My deepest condolences to the families of the deceased," he tweeted. "Wish all those injured a speedy recovery. MP Government is monitoring the situation closely."
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also took to Twitter to express his sadness at the loss of life. "The Jhabua tragedy is heart wrenching. I offer my condolences to the families of the victims and pray for the speedy recovery of those injured," Chouhan said.
He offered compensation of Rs 200,000 to the families of the dead and Rs 50,000 to help the injured victims.
(With inputs from agencies)