Kollam | At around 3.30 AM, there was a massive explosion followed by tremors which were felt even a kilometre away from the 100-year-old Puttingal Devi temple near here as a massive fire tragedy struck there. This was the account of Girija who said such an incident had never occurred earlier.
Giving an account of her experience, Girija, whose house is situated about a kilometre away from the temple, said she felt tremors soon after a massive explosion. The mishap due to the display of fireworks occurred on the last day of the seven-day ‘Meena Bharani’ festivities.
Thousands of people had gathered at the temple precincts to witness the fireworks display underway since midnight when the blaze erupted at around 3.30 AM. The mishap occurred as sparks of the fireworks fell on the store room ‘Kambapura’ and the fire crackers kept there exploded with a deafening noise.
Lalu, a television journalist who was watching the fireworks from the terrace of a nearby building, said the mishap occurred towards the end of the festivities. I saw a huge fireball and then a thundering sound. Electricity in the area went off and I heard people screaming. It was a very chilling experience, he said. Lalu said he immediately rushed to the spot and found about 10-15 people dead. Charred bodies and human remains were strewn around the temple complex after the fire tragedy.
Raju, a local resident staying near the temple, said he heard a massive sound and a huge ball of fire. He immediately rushed to the spot and found bodies strewn all over, as also blood stained clothes and footwear, he told a correspondent.
The concrete building in which crackers and pyrotechnic materials were stocked was completely destroyed in the explosion which was so massive that cement slabs were found even 10 metres away from the accident spot, said 63-year-old Vijayan, an eyewitness. A building of the temple office was also compeltely gutted, he said. He said he saw bodies burnt beyond recognition, slippers of the dead and injured and concrete slabs strewn near the temple precints.
The injured and the dead were soon removed to various hospitals. But since the mishap occurred at such odd hours, there was initially some difficulty in finding vehicles to ferry them to hospitals, he said.
Suresh Babu, a casual labourer claimed he and his friend were the first to reach the accident spot and immediately started removing the dead bodies and helping the injured. I have never seen such a ghastly scene… burnt bodies, borken limbs, disfigured bodies. I have yet to get over the shock and have not been able to take food or water. The sight of dead bodies is still haunting me, he said.
The tiled roofs of at least five buildings were blown away. Vijayan said a large number of people died when concrete chunks and iron grills from the structures fell on those who had gathered to watch the festivities. Many had suffered head injuries.
Red Cross officials at the spot said most of the injuries were due to concrete chunks and iron rods falling on the victims, they said. Another injured man said he was watching the festivities with his friend, who was killed in the mishap.
Meanwhile Conflicting versions are emerging on permission being granted for conduct of fireworks display at the 100-year-old Puttingal Devi temple complex, near here, where at least 102 lives were lost in a major fire today. While the office of Kollam District collector A Shainamol’s office told that no permission was granted to conduct the fireworks display, local people claimed the ban was lifted later in the night.
They claimed a ban had been imposed on a complaint by one Pankajakshi, a resident near the temple complex against holding fireworks display. Pankajakshi alleged that temple authorities had threatened her after the complaint was filed. Local people in the area told that late at night, the ban was lifted following a ‘mutual agreement’.
However, Kollam City Police commissioner P Prakash, said police did not given permission for the display of fireworks. The locals said they had received oral permission. The temple authority did not have the permission and we did not give them any permission, he said.
A case has been registered and a team from Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Thiruvananthapuram will be reaching here, he said. Fireforce DGP Loknath Behara said the incident will be treated as a criminal act. A special team from fireforce will also probe into the incident, said Behara, who visited the spot.