Death Toll In Kollam Temple Fire In India Crosses 100 And Could Rise Further – Huge Stockpile Of Fireworks Caused Tragedy?

A huge fire in a temple in India has claimed over 100 lives thus far, and the death toll could rise further, authorities fear. The inferno at the Puttingal Devi temple in the Kollam district in Kerala, a state in Southern India, may have been caused by a huge stockpile of fireworks, which were allegedly stored without proper permissions or according to safety regulations.

Death toll in the Kollam temple fire has reached 110 and more than 300 people have been injured in the inferno that started at around 3:10 a.m. local time Sunday. The tragedy was most likely triggered by an errant firework which ignited a huge stockpile of fireworks stored on the temple premises for an upcoming traditional ceremony. The Puttingal Devi temple in Kollam district’s Paravur, is located about 70km south of the southern state of Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthpauram.

The temple organizes an annual fireworks display. However, it isn’t a centrally coordinated event. Rather, the festival involves multiple pyro-technique experts and their teams, who put up an orchestrated fireworks display. These teams essentially partake in a huge competition and the fireworks explode in quick successions. The fireworks show and the competition are held on the last day of a seven-day festival. The celebration honors the goddess Bhadrakali, believed to be a southern Indian incarnation of the ‘Kali’, the Hindu goddess representing time (creation, change, preservation, destruction) and empowerment.

Over 10,000 people had gathered at the venue even though it was late at night. Moreover, local reports indicate the temple hadn’t secured the necessary permissions or approvals to conduct this year’s fireworks show. According to Hindustan Times, Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy confirmed this year’s competition was taking place even though there was no permission from district authorities.

The number of injured keeps on rising, as the emergency rescue workers still haven’t been able to clear the cinders. However the local rescuers and the regional fire brigade worked through the night to bring the inferno under control. Unfortunately, several among the dead are young women and children. Reports claim quite a few of the bodies have been burnt beyond recognition and only forensic analysis might be able to confirm the identity of the deceased. Among the dead are several police officials and members of third-party law and order enforcement people who were deployed in the temple to manage the surging crowds.

Eyewitness recall a horrific sight as the fireworks erupted in unison and created a thick blanket of smoke that obscured the sky. Locals fear the death toll could rise further as the officials are still discovering victims in serious condition. The chaos following the fire might have resulted in the death of people as well. Though temple authorities are known to erect barricades and follow crowd management protocols, the fire was on an unprecedented scale that caught everyone unawares.

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Several politicians and high ranking officials, including the state Chief Minister as well as India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi have rushed to the spot and urged the relevant authorities to expeditiously conduct the rescue operations, and identify the deceased so that the bodies can be handed over to the next of kin, reported The Hindu.

While an investigation is expected, regional media interviewed a few locals who indicated the fire spread rapidly after a live firecracker fell into a warehouse that was packed with fireworks. The high-intensity fireworks instantly erupted. While it isn’t clear how much the warehouse held, locals indicated fireworks worth about $20,000 may have been procured for the event.

The neighboring state, Karnataka’s government has confirmed that a delegation comprising of 10 medical professionals will be dispatched with drugs and blood to Kollam in Kerala to provide relief to victims.

[Photo by Noah Seelam/Getty Images]