Kollam: In one of the worst tragedies to hit Kerala, at least 106 people were killed and 383 injured in a devastating fire that engulfed the 100-year-old Puttingal Devi Temple complex near here on Sunday.
A late night statement issued by the Chief Minister's office said 106 people had lost their lives in the incident that left 383 others with injuries.
A judicial probe by a retired High Court Judge was ordered by the state government along with an investigation by Crime Branch into the tragedy, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy announced after an emergency Cabinet meeting over the tragedy.
The tragedy struck around 3.30 AM during display of fireworks at the temple complex, which is around 70 kms from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
The fireworks, for which no permission had been granted by Revenue and police officials, had started at midnight as part of an annual festival and thousands of people had gathered to witness it.
The mishap occurred as sparks of the fireworks fell on the store room 'Kambapura' and the fire crackers kept there exploded with a deafening noise, police said.
The blaze spread quickly trapping the devotees within the complex. Charred bodies and human remains were strewn around the temple complex after the fire tragedy. "It was complete chaos," eyewitnesses said.
The explosions also ripped chunks of concrete and plaster from the temple and nearby buildings which fell on people killing some on the spot and wounding many others.
PM Modi pledges all help after visiting temple fire site
Meanwhile, describing the fire tragedy as "unimaginable", Prime Minister Narendra Modi today assured Kerala government and its people all help in the hour of crisis as he visited the mishap site near here and a hospital to see the injured people.
"The tragedy is unimaginable and dreadful," a sombre PM Modi said in Thiruvananthapuram just before taking a flight to Delhi.
"This is an hour of crisis and the central government is ready to extend all help to Kerala government and the people of the state," PM Modi added.
He said he had told the Chief Minister that if he wanted any injured people to be taken to Mumbai or Delhi for specialised treatment, the central government will immediately make arrangements for the same.
He announced Rs.2 lakh as compensation to families of each of the dead.
CM Chandy orders judicial probe
On the other hand, CM Chandy announced a compensation of Rs.10 lakh to families of the dead, Rs.2 lakh each to the seriously injured and Rs.50,000 to those with minor injuries.
He also ordered a judicial probe and a simultaneous investigation by the Crime Branch of Kerala Police to determine how the fireworks show ended up raining death.
At the same time, Chandy held an emergency cabinet meeting in Kollam and said that the incident "should open the eyes of all of us" vis-a-vis temple celebrations, as per IANS.
He added that the government would bear the expenses of the injured.
One booked for violating licence norms
One person, who had allegedly stored crackers and fireworks ten times more than the permit, was booked by police in connection with the Puttingal Devi Temple fire tragedy.
Attingal police said they have registered a case against the licensee, Surendran, who had stored about 150 kgs of crackers and fireworks material at the storehouse without valid permission.
Surendran had license to store only about 15 kg, police said.
"It is a clear violation of license. So far no arrests have been made," police said, as per PTI.
Army, Air force, Navy pitch in with aid
As tragedy struck, a massive effort was launched to rescue the people from the inferno and shift the injured people to hospitals, with the Navy and the Air Force pressing into service six helicopters and one Dornier aircraft.
Following a request from the state government, Indian Air Force sent six helicopters, two AN32 transport aircraft and two business jets to Kerala, a spokesperson said.
The Navy dispatched six aircraft - two Dornier fixed- wing aircraft, two ALH helicopters and two Chetak helicopters - to the site of the tragedy, a navy spokesperson said.
And INS Sunayna, Kabra and Kalpeni set sail immediately from Kochi with 200kg of medical supplies and a medical team.
However, the 15-member temple committee, which was in the precincts, when the mishap occurred, went missing soon after the incident, local people said.
(With Agency inputs)