At least 110 people are feared dead and 280 injured in a fire that broke out in a temple in Kerala early on Sunday. The fire was caused by the unauthorised bursting of firecrackers as part of a festival at the Puttingal Devi temple in Kollam district’s Paravur, 70km south of capital Thiruvananthapuram.
With fast-paced developments in the wake of the tragedy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi described as ‘heart-rending and shocking’, here is a brief account of events, facts that we know so far.
How the tragedy occurred
The fire started at 3:10am, triggering explosions that led to the collapse of parts of the temple and an adjoining building. Many were trapped under the debris. The fire was doused by 6:45 am. The impact was exacerbated by the densely populated surroundings of the Puttingal Devi temple.
Eyewitnesses said dismembered bodies lay on the temple premises. Around 10,000 people were present when the mishap took place.
Kerala officials have confirmed that 102 people have died and 280 were injured, though the death toll is expected to rise above 100. Those injured were transported to the Thiruvanathapuram Medical College where medical treatment operations are being coordinated by the state health minister, VS Siva Kumar.
The state government has requested the Centre to provide army helicopters to help extricate the injured, as the absence of proper roads made things difficult for rescue personnel.
The INS Kabra and the INS Kalpeni are sailing to Kollam with medical stores onboard. The INS Sunayna is expected to join the relief efforts later on.
PM Modi along with a team of 15 and medical teams from AIIMS,RML and Safdarjung hospital, including burn specialists, have left for Kerala.
Surgical teams are on standby at the Navy command hospital in Kochi.
Unauthorised display ended in horror
The mishap was the result of the temple setting off fireworks to commemorate the Hindu New Year, permission for which was denied to them by the district collector.
Local residents reportedly lodged a court case against the temple to complain about the annual fireworks display. The case is pending.
The temple manager and two other officials have been booked, and a case has also been registered against the explosives licensees.
Eyewitness said the fireworks display started close to midnight and a building that stored crackers caught fire when the programme was about to end.
The main contractor for the fireworks is currently injured and undergoing treatment in a hospital.
Shock and condolences
Leaders across the country expressed their horror at the temple fire, with many pledging support.
PM Modi promised that the Centre will help the victims of the fire. The PM has sent Union health minister JP Nadda to Kollam, and has announced that he will travel to Kerala later on Sunday to assess the situation.
BJP president Amit Shah also expressed his condolences, and said that he will suspend election meetings and rallies for Sunday. Kerala will go to the polls on May 16.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi announced that he will be travel to Kollam.