Relatives search for loved ones after Indian temple fire kills 109

Distraught relatives were searching for their loved ones in southern India's Kollam district on Monday, one day after a deadly blaze sparked by a fireworks display in a temple killed 109 people.

Three of those injured by the fire at the Puttingal Devi temple in Kollam had since died, and 24 others remained in critical condition, Kerala Health Minister V Sivakumar said.

Only two of those killed were women.

Fourteen of the bodies had yet to be identified, Sivakumar said, adding that DNA testing may be necessary.

A firecracker from the fireworks display, part of annual festivities at the temple, had landed on a stockpile of fireworks, setting off a series of explosions and the fire.

The explosions destroyed several buildings in the crowded temple grounds, which had an estimated 10,000 people watching the display in the early hours of Sunday.

Most of the victims died due to burns, flying bits of concrete and mortar or in a stampede as people tried to escape the temple grounds through narrow exits, police said.

"Bodies were in so many pieces. We did not know which limb belonged to which body," NDTV news channel quoted V Muralidharan, a banker who went as a volunteer to help rescue work at the site on Sunday, as saying.

"Doctors were consoling relatives by telling them that DNA tests will be conducted to confirm the identity of the dead bodies ... and they will be handed to the family members after confirmation," social worker Rarish Ravindran was quoted as saying.

Five people have been detained in connection with a deadly fire, a police official said. Those detained worked for the two contractors responsible for the fireworks.

One of the contractors was in critical condition in hospital with 90 per cent burn injuries, police said. The other was in hiding.

Police filed charges against 15 people including members of the temple board, local newspaper Malayalam Manorama reported.

At least 10 members of the Kollam temple's board of trustees were missing, the Times of India reported, citing police sources.

The Kerala government has ordered a police investigation and a judicial probe into the accident.

A group of explosive experts also visited the site Monday.

Meanwhile, the Kerala High Court has said has scheduled a special session Tuesday to consider a request that there should be a ban on firework displays at temples, NDTV news channel reported.

Arun Kumar, an official of the Travancore Devaswom Board that governs more than 1200 temples in the state, said the board did not favour a ban, and that the government and temple administrations should ensure that safety measures were followed.

The temple at which the fire took place was not governed by the Travancore board, Kumar added.

Firework displays are a routine part of festivities at temples in Kerala.

Last update: Mon, 11/04/2016 - 20:19
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