‘It came like a storm’: Kerala survivors describe temple blaze horror | india | Hindustan Times
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‘It came like a storm’: Kerala survivors describe temple blaze horror

At least 110 people died and more than 350 were injured when an unauthorised fireworks display at a century-old temple in Kerala set off blasts and a blaze early on Sunday, underscoring recurring safety breaches at places of worship in India.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2016 12:08 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times
Puttingal temple tragedy,Puttingal temple fire,Paravur Puttingal temple
People gathered in the temple premises after the fire mishap took place early on Sunday.(Sarath ST/HT Photo)

“It came like a storm, throwing everyone to the ground.”

This was how Anish Kumar described the explosions and a blaze that killed at least 110 people at Puttingal Devi temple in Kollam district’s Paravur on Sunday.

“There were bodies all over the place and the injured were writhing in pain,” he said.

Thousands had packed overnight into the temple complex in Kerala when a stray firework landed on a stockpile, triggering a huge blast that partially demolished a concrete building.

The fireworks display, for which no permission was granted, started at midnight as part of an annual festival.

“I was horrified to see hundreds of men and women on the ground, lifeless,” said Kumar, who lost one of his friends in the disaster.

Read: PM Modi assures Kerala of help, says temple fire ‘very painful’

Eyewitnesses said the area plunged into darkness after the first blast, which shattered windows of homes 100 metres away.

It took almost two hours for the police and fire service to realise the magnitude of the disaster.

Jayakumar, an eyewitness, had a narrow escape.

“Before we could realise what had happened, my friend, Jayan, was lying in a pool of blood next to me. A piece of concrete slab had hit his head,” he said.

Lallu S Pillai, a journalist covering the temple festival for Asianet News, was standing on the terrace of a nearby house when the fire broke out.

He described the scene as “absolute chaos”, with chunks of concrete raining down on people in a radius of 500 metres.

“There were body parts on the floor, and on the roof there was an arm,” Anita Prakash, a resident, said. “In the past, there’s been fireworks but not on this scale.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the district hospital to meet the survivors of fire tragedy in Kollam. (PTI)

Dr Rajesh Kumar said those who poured into his Kollam hospital were suffering from head injuries and burn wounds, and several needed amputations.

“Seven people had partial amputations in the blast and we had to amputate surgically. Most of those hurt had head, torso and internal injuries. A few had burn injuries,” he said.

Until reports last came in, authorities had identified as many as 48 of the deceased people.

As it happened: 110 dead in Kerala temple fire, Modi meets CM Chandy

Residents said they complained about the risk of such fireworks displays, but their concerns were not addressed.

“We were often ostracised for speaking up against the fireworks. Nobody realised that they were sitting on a powder keg,” said Pankajakhi Amma, an NRI who has a house near the temple.

Read: 110 killed in Kerala fire, case against temple authorities

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Apr 10, 2016 21:57 IST