India temple fire kills more than 100 people

An explosion and blaze sparked by fireworks have killed at least 100 people at a Hindu temple in the Indian state of Kerala, police say.

NEW DELHI (India) — More than 100 people were killed and hundreds more hurt when a fire and explosion ripped through a Hindu temple in India’s southern Kerala state on Sunday as thousands of devotees watched fireworks at a religious festival.

Thousands of devotees had packed into the Puttingal Devi temple, about 70 km from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram in the coastal district of Kollam, to watch the display that started at midnight and went on four hours.

Officials said a fireworks display exploded during the temple festival. Sparks from the display ignited a magazine 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, in Kerala province.

The inferno destroyed a temple office building and a storage shed. It also damaged nearby houses in Kollam, in Kerala province.

There were scenes of chaos as emergency teams were slow in reaching the area, witnesses said. Rescue teams used bulldozers to clear the area looking for survivors.

A team of specialist doctors has been sent from Delhi amid reports of horrific burns suffered by those wounded. Several people were said to be in critical condition in hospitals.

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.”

The century-old Puttingal temple is named after a goddess who worshippers believed lived inside an ant hill. Those gathered at the temple for the festival stayed late into the night. It’s not uncommon for people to pray at temples early in the morning in southern India, police commissioner P. Prakash said.

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

Indian Prime Narendra Modi called the fire “heart-rending and shocking beyond words.”

“My thoughts are with families of the deceased and prayers with the injured,” he said in a statement.

The Prime Minister said he plans to visit the site of the fire. “I will be reaching Kerala soon to take stock of the situation arising due to the unfortunate fire tragedy,” he tweeted.

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