A massive fire broke out during a fireworks display in a Hindu temple in south India early Sunday, killing more than 100 people and injuring at least 200 others, officials said.
The fire started when a spark from the unauthorized fireworks show ignited a separate batch of fireworks that were being stored at the Puttingal temple complex in Paravoor village, a few hours north of Kerala’s state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, said Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, the state’s top elected official.
Thousands had been packed into the temple complex when a big explosion erupted around 3 a.m., officials said. The blaze then spread quickly through the temple, trapping devotees within.
Most of the 102 people died when the building where the fireworks were stored collapsed, Chandy told reporters at the temple complex.
Local TV channels broadcast images of huge clouds of white smoke billowing from the temple, as fireworks were still going off in the night sky. Successive explosions from the building storing the fireworks sent huge chunks of concrete flying as far as a kilometre, according to resident Jayashree Harikrishnan.
“What initially looked like a beautful set of fireworks suddenly transformed into a huge ball of fire, smashing more than 10 holes in the temple complex, which was chock-a-block with people,” said freelance reporter Shantanu Ray from New Delhi.
The temple holds a competitive fireworks display every year, with different groups putting on successive light shows for thousands of devotees gathered for the last day of a seven-day festival honouring the goddess Bhadrakali, a southern Indian incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali.
This year, district authorities denied permission for the fireworks display, Chief Minister Chandy said.
The state’s High Court had earlier mandated that fireworks must be stored more than 100 metres (yards) from temples — orders that were flouted at the Paravoor temple, said Loknath Behera, a top police official.
“We will be investigating how the orders were flouted and who was responsible for the decision to go ahead with the firework display,” Chandy said.