Kerala temple officials go missing after tragedy

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Kollam (Kerala), April 10 (IANS) Top officials of the Puttingal Devi temple in Kerala have reportedly gone missing after an illegal fireworks show left some 100 people dead early on Sunday, police sources said.

The police have registered a case of culpable homicide against senior temple officials. An IANS correspondent tried to reach them on their mobile telephones but they were switched off.

A case has also been registered against the father-son duo of Surendran and Umesh who had organised the fireworks display. Both are being treated at the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital.

The fireworks show is an annual event held during the Malayalam month of Meenam, which falls in April, in the temple located in the coastal town of Paravur, about 60 km from Thiruvananthapuram.

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A resident close to the temple told IANS that till last year the fireworks display involved a competition between two groups.

“This time permission was not granted but a pamphlet circulated on Saturday mentioned prizes for the best fireworks show,” said the resident, who did not want to be identified by name.

According to him, the fireworks would normally begin to be exploded around 10.30 p.m. the previous night, by when all rituals associated with the temple get over and the shrine is closed for the night.

Elephants are part of the temple celebrations but these are moved out of the area before the firecrackers are exploded.

The fireworks show begins around 11 p.m. and goes on till about 4 a.m. the next morning, said another devotee. Sunday’s tragedy occurred about 30 minutes before the show was to end.

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“The fireworks display of this temple is quite popular and it attracts lots of people from nearby areas. There were around 15,000 people both in and around the temple complex on Saturday,” said the resident.

Some residents claimed that concrete pieces went flying after a huge quantity of firecrackers stored in a building exploded with a roar after a spark from a firecracker hit the structure.

One concrete piece reportedly hit a two-wheeler driver a kilometre away.

Fortunately, fire tenders and medical personnel were on duty at the temple — as a matter of routine.

The building where the powerful firecrackers had been stored collapsed, burying many, witnesses said.

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