“In fact, the fire started around 3 a.m. local time during the fireworks display at a ground next to the Puttingal temple in the state’s Kollam district, packed with 15,000 people attending a festival,” he said, on condition of anonymity.
While 110 people were killed, those injured have been admitted to various hospitals in Kollam and other nearby districts, where makeshifts air-conditioned camps have been set up, the official said, adding that the death toll may go up as the condition of some are said to be critical.
Indian military choppers have been pressed into service to ferry the injured to the hospitals and the state government has cancelled the leaves of all doctors and demanding them to report to duty.
According to officials, a spark had actually ignited a stack of fireworks, triggering the fire.
“It was a spark from the crackers being burst that fell into the stack of crackers kept on ground, leading to the fire,” another official said.
Local TV channels showed footage of white smoke billowing from the temple and also reported that successive explosions from stack of crackers caused some parts of the temple roof to cave in.
Such was the impact of the fire that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the inferno was “heart-rending and shocking,” and headed to Kerala to meet the injured in a special Indian Air Force flight, along with a team of 15 specialist doctors from the national capital.
“Fire at temple in Kollam is heart-rending and shocking beyond words. My thoughts are with families of the deceased and prayers with the injured,” Modi tweeted and announced a compensation of two lakh rupees (4,000 U.S. dollars) for the families of each of the deceased.
State Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has said the temple had defied orders and carried out the “competitive fireworks”, which are a tradition during the ongoing seven-day festival ahead of the New Year of native Keralites.
“A case has been registered against the temple authorities and soon they will be arrested. A judicial probe has been ordered into the fire,” the police official said. Enditem