There were around 15,000 people in the temple maidan and surroundings at the time of the conflagaration, and temple authorities were prima facie guilty of violating the district administration's order against holding a fireworks show.The event also flouted the Supreme Court's directive that fireworks must not be used beyond 10pm. Such was the impact that the glass façade of a showroom in the centre of Kollam town two kilometres away was shattered and a two-storey building in the vicinity caved in. Rescue efforts began while it was still dark, with police and fire engines having to negotiate burning rubble. With daybreak, rescuers had to contend with the sickening sight of bodies charred beyond recognition, and body parts littered on tree branches and under concrete slabs --if there was hell on earth, it was here.
"It wasn't the fire alone that scorched people, but the way they were hit by broken concrete that flew like projectiles. People close to the fireworks display were flattened by heavy stones and concrete," said Biju G, who was present at the temple at the time of the explosions. The fireworks display , involving an estimated 50 tonnes of gunpowder and assorted explosives like potassium chloride and ammonium nitra te, began at midnight and was at its fag end when sparks from a rocket that exploded 50 feet above the ground in the shape of a sunflower fell on an auto packed with explosives, and on an adjacent storeroom where more explosives were stacked, leading to the inferno.
The additional district ma gistrate had refused permission for the fireworks; apparently, the nod is sought every year; it is refused every year, and the rule is violated every year.
Police have detained five people and filed cases against two fireworks contractors. The Kollam police have filed cases against Varkala Krishnankutty and Kaz hakoottam Surendran, the contractors entrusted with the fireworks by the temple authorities. Krishnankutty is absconding while Surendran was critically injured in the blaze.
The temple authorities or ganized a competition of fireworks display between two rival pyro-technicians, a four-hour display accompanied by `live commentary' on the proceedings and reportedly involving prize money and betting. Police remain wary of intervening, fearing religious sentiments and unsure if the politicians will back them if they act against this 50-year-old practice.
In the last three years alone, 451people have died in Kerala in accidents related to fireworks.Though there are stringent provisions on paper, in practice these are observed in their breach."We will investigate how the orders were flouted and who was responsible for the decision to go ahead with the fireworks display ," chief minister Oommen Chandy said after visiting the site. Religious leaders like Mata Amrithanandamayi called for heavily regulating the use of fireworks in temple festivals.
The state and Union governments acted swiftly to enable optimum rescue effort. Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew down to Kollam and visited the temple premises. He also visited survivors of the accident at district hospital in Kollam and at the Govt Medical College in Thiruvananthapuram. "It was a shocking and horrific accident.In the explosion, heads got severed from bodies. We will ensure all support. We stand with the people of Kerala and will extend all possible help," Modi said.
A team of expert doctors accompanied the PM and are staying back here to offer advanced treatment to patients with serio us burn injuries. Modi also directed Union health minister J PNadda who reached Kollam to stay back and coordinate rescue operations.
Kerala govt orders judicial inquiry
The Kerala government has ordered a judicial inquiry into Sunday's tragedy. After a special cabinet meet in Kollam, CM Oommen Chandy said the panel would be asked to submit a report within six months. Retired HC judge Justice N Krishnan Nair has been appointed as the one-man commission. Additional chief secretary (home) Nalini Netto has been asked to frame the terms of reference fo the judicial probe. TNN
1,000kg explosives seized from supplier
Police on Sunday seized explosives from the Kazhakootam residence and Attingal warehouse of Surendran, who had supplied the fireworks to the temple.Seven sacks of olapadakkams (crackers made of dry palm leaf), a sack of gundu (low intensity bombs) were seized from the residence and around 1,000kg of explosives (gunpowder, crackers, wicks and chemicals) from the warehouse. TNN
Muslim organization pledges Rs 50K
Mumbai: Muslim organization All India Milli Council has announced a contribution of Rs 50,000 to the Kerala chief ministerrelief fund for the victims of the Kollam temple fire. The organization has also demanded stern action against those responsible for the tragedy and adequate compensation to victims' families and to the injured. " We know Rs 50,000 is a small amount but we want to send a message through this gesture that in these moments of grief we Indians, irrespective of religious and political affiliations, are with the bereaved families and pray for the fast recovery of the injured," said All India Milli Council (Maharashtra) general secretary M A Khalid. TNN
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