India temple fire: 106 killed in fireworks disaster; criminal case opened

Updated 11:16 PM EDT, Sun April 10, 2016
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Story highlights

Police file a case of culpable homicide against temple authorities and fireworks contractors

"People were running everywhere, and burnt bodies were on the ground," a witness says

Police: The temple did not have permission for the fireworks celebration

(CNN) —  

The disaster came too quickly for Bhadran to understand what had just happened.

One moment, he and two friends were celebrating Hindu new year’s festivities at a south Indian temple. Minutes later, his two friends were dead.

“I did not know what happened,” said Bhadran, who gave only one name. “There was a huge fireball, and it was all over in five minutes. Once I reached the ground, there were dead bodies all around.”

The blast Sunday at the Puttingal temple killed at least 106 people and injured more than 500, authorities said.

Sparks from a fireworks display ignited a stockpile of fireworks, causing a larger blaze, local police official K. Laljy said.

The inferno destroyed a temple office building and a storage shed. It also damaged nearby houses in Kollam, which is in Kerala state in southwest India.

Nirmala, 58, was sleeping in her house nearby with her daughter and granddaughter when the blast occurred early Sunday morning.

“I thought there was an earthquake and hid under the bed,” she said. “When I came out, there was no electricity. People were running everywhere, and burnt bodies were on the ground. The smell was really bad.”

Some of those killed died from burns; others died from suffocation or from the crush of collapsed buildings.

Those injured and hospitalized will receive free treatment, said Oommen Chandy, chief minister of Kerala state.

While the impact of the blast caused two small buildings to crumble, the temple’s main shrine was not severely damaged.

Prayer vigils ordered

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party circulated a memo from National General Secretary Arun Singh requesting district officials organize “maha arti” prayers Monday evening “to pay homage to the departed souls (and) pray for speedy recovery of the injured.”

It noted that both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party’s President Amit Shah had acted to express their grief and offered prayers for the victims. Modi visited the Kollam District Hospital Sunday evening, meeting injured victims and family members.

He called the fire “heart-rending and shocking beyond words.”

Modi’s office said the families of those killed will get about $3,000 in “ex-gratia relief.” Those injured in the temple fire will receive 50,000 rupees ( $751) in compensation.

Criminal case opened

The Puttingal temple before the fire.
Puttingal Temple/Facebook
The Puttingal temple before the fire.

The temple did not have permission for the fireworks celebration, police official M.S. Santosh said.