People rushed to the spot to help whoever they could. With their bare hands, they carried the injured to safety. There was chaos at the scene and all Kiran R Pillai, a 24-year-old commerce graduate, could hear was people screaming and looking for their loved ones.
He rushed to the spot after spotting the fire from his home, about 2.5 km from the temple. He also heard a loud explosion. Kiran saved a 44-year-old from the rubble. There were other good Samaritans, too. It was one of the worst tragedies to hit Kerala.
At least 106 people were killed and 383 were injured in the devastating fire, which engulfed the 100-year-old Puttingal Devi Temple complex near Kollam during an unauthorised display of fireworks on Sunday morning.
I have never seen anything like this in my life. The smell of burning flesh was so strong that it was almost choking the people who were moving around and trying to help,” he said.
The tragedy struck around 3.30 am, and the sound of the explosion could be heard over a radius of 1 km and the whole area plunged into darkness as power supply went off, eyewitnesses said.
Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy said that the Kollam district collector had not given permission for the fireworks. District collector A Shainamol said the temple authorities had asked for permission to conduct competitive fireworks, which was denied. For normal fireworks, no permission was sought and hence there was no question of granting it, she said.
dna learns from official sources that after the district administration denied permission, the temple festival committee approached local police officials.
The circle inspector of the area did not budge, but the deputy commissioner of police allowed it at the committee’s own risk. A former Congress MP also put pressure on the officials, sources said.
With the assurance from politicians, the festival committee gave wide publicity of the fireworks display. The ads, circulated widely by the committee, said that two teams would compete in the display and the winner would be awarded lakhs of rupees.
Since it was election time, political parties were not in a position to take a stand against the display.
Incidentally, a resident had filed a case against the temple earlier, asking the administration to not allow the fireworks as it caused immense misery to people living in the vicinity of the temple and posed a risk to houses.
Police sources said a case has been registered against the temple authorities under Section 307 (attempt to murder) and 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide) of IPC and under Section 4 of the Explosives Substances Act.
The Centre rushed the chief controller of explosives safety organisation, PESO, to check if there was any illegal usage of crackers or explosives at the temple.
The 15-member temple committee, which was in the precincts when the mishap occurred, went missing soon after the incident, local people told PTI.
The state government ordered a judicial probe by a retired high court judge. It has also ordered an investigation by the crime branch, Chandy said after an emergency cabinet meeting.