Police in the southern Indian state of Kerala detained five people Monday in connection with a temple fire that left at least 110 dead. State authorities have ordered a judicial probe in the case.
The incident occurred at Puttingal temple in Kollam district's Paravoor town — about 40 miles north of state capital Thiruvananthapuram — early Sunday after an illegal fireworks display went awry during a religious festival. According to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, the fire started after a spark from the fireworks ignited another set of firecrackers in the temple area, injuring 380 people.
Police have also filed a case against the fireworks contractor. According to reports, firecrackers worth nearly $1 million were brought for the celebration at the temple, where thousands of people had gathered. Officials had reportedly denied permission for the fireworks display.
Several of those present for the celebration ran in panic after the initial blast cut off power in the temple area, while other explosions sent flames triggering the collapse of a building at the temple, a witness reportedly said. Many people were feared trapped under debris.
A search is underway for 15 members of the temple board who fled after the incident, the Associated Press reported. Police are also probing for possible charges of culpable homicide, punishable with life imprisonment, and for illegally storing a cache of explosives, according to the AP.
The temple conducts a competitive fireworks show every year, with different groups displaying the works in front of thousands of people who gather for the end of a seven-day festival honoring the goddess Bhadrakali, a southern Indian incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali, the AP reported. However, this year, Kollam district officials had denied permission to the temple board for fireworks display, A. Shainamol, the district’s top official, reportedly said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who arrived at the tragedy site Sunday, announced compensation of $3,000 to the families of the deceased and about $750 to those injured in the incident. Chandy announced ex-gratia of $1 million each to the families of those killed in the fire.