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Meerut fire toll mounts to 100

The fire broke out due to short circuit at 'Brand India' fair in Victoria Park. Helpline number: 0121 - 2642550

india Updated: Apr 11, 2006 16:24 IST

Armed paramilitary troops patrolled Meerut on Tuesday as residents staged angry protests accusing authorities of negligence after some 100 people perished in a trade fair fire.

The protesters shouted slogans as relatives of scores of victims massed outside hospitals demanding that the charred bodies of their relatives be handed over.

Meerut legislator Laxmikant Vajpayee blamed the fire that gutted three giant exhibition tents on state negligence.

"These enclosures were a fire trap. There was only exit and one entry covered with nylon and there was no crowd control," Vajpayee said.

"There were no firefighting systems and fire trucks came an hour after the disaster," he said.

"The trade fair was being conducted illegally and the city administration remained a mute spectator.

Charges of murder should be registered against the administration."

Police cordoned off the disaster site in a city park to keep out angry relatives.

The burnt-out shell of the trade-fair enclosure was littered with high-end products such as music systems, washing machines, computers -- and charred uniforms of the models and salesgirls managing the stalls.

Monday night's fire in the giant exhibition tents was caused by a short circuit, according to preliminary reports.

It spread rapidly through the wooden-floored tents covered with synthetic material, witnesses said.

Shoppers, who had flocked to the three air-conditioned tents at the electronics fair to escape the heat outside, became trapped inside once the fire started, they said.

Banks of air-conditioners were set up to cool the tents housing the fair, with the power units outside and the cooling units inside, they said.

The tents each had capacity for more than 2,000 people. Witnesses said each was packed with people escaping temperatures above 35-degree Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) on the last day of the five-day Brand India Fair at Victoria Park.

Each steel-pole framed tent was about 100-metres long and had a one-way corridor with stalls on either side, making it almost impossible for people to escape once the blaze began.

Police said at least 100 people died and scores more were injured.

Seven local hospitals were overwhelmed with the dead and injured. Badly burned survivors were being transferred to New Delhi some 80 kilometres to the south, doctors said.

"We want blood, we want anaesthetics, we need specialised paramedics and we need a whole lot of back-up which this town just does not have," Dr RP Rohtagi said.

Many of the victims were college girls doubling as models and sales girls for international electrical consumer goods manufacturers.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed shock at the incident and conveyed his condolences to the relatives of those killed, his office said.

Meanwhile, Home Minister of State Sri Prakash Jaiswal and Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi drove to Meerut on Tuesday in a gesture of solidarity.

"This is a horrific tragedy" said Jaiswal.

Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav announced a payment of 200,000 ($4,500 ) to the relatives of each victim.

First Published: Apr 11, 2006 10:58 IST