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India orders inquiry after temple fire in Kerala

Organizers of the pyrotechnic show were denied permission to go ahead with the program. Investigators are looking into who is responsible and how the show went ahead without the necessary permission.

Authorities have ordered a judicial inquiry Sunday into the cause of a massive temple fire in southern India that left more than 100 dead and nearly 400 injured.

On Sunday, a series of massive explosions and subsequent fire, apparently sparked by an errant firework and a huge repository of fireworks, left scores dead and hundreds injured at a Hindu temple crowded with thousands of people in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

Fireworks are a common feature of Hindu festivals but in this case organizers were denied permission to host the pyrotechnic show, and by evening police had detained five employees of the contracting duo said to be responsible for the event.

Watch video 01:36

Scores killed in India fireworks blast

But the father-son duo said to be behind the show were both reportedly in the hospital suffering serious burn injuries.

Meanwhile survivors of the accident gave harrowing accounts of the explosion, the ensuing chaos, and the tragic results.

"It came like a storm, throwing everyone to the ground. There were bodies all over the place and the injured were writhing in pain," said Anish Kumar, who had gone with his friends to see the display at the Puttingal Devi temple in Kollam district.

"I was horrified to see hundreds of men and women on the ground lifeless," said Kumar, who lost one of his friends in the disaster.

A grave situation

People search through piles of debris after explosions at Hindu temple.

People search through debris after explosions at temple

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the accident as "heart-rending and shocking beyond words." He toured the complex and met some of the injured at a hospital.

"The incident is so grave that it is very difficult to describe in words," Modi said. "People who were 200 meters away were also hurt. And right now the doctor was telling me that some of the blasts were such that some peoples' bodies were blown apart."

A spokesman for Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the "death total is 106 with 75 of those identified and 31 unknown." Another 380 were injured.

Emergency room doctor Rajesh Kumar said patients rushed to his hospital were suffering from head injuries and burn wounds, and several had needed amputations.

"Seven people had partial amputations in the blast and we had to amputate surgically," he said, speaking from a hospital in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram. "Most of the injured had head, torso and internal injuries, a few had burn injuries."

The blast, and subsequent fire, occurred around 3 a.m., and took firefighters nearly four hours to extinguish the flames.

One of the explosions sent huge chunks of concrete flying as far as a kilometer, or more than half a mile.

Chandy, the top elected official in Kerala state, has appointed a retired judge to investigate the case.

"We will be investigating how the orders were flouted," he said, "and who was responsible for the decision to go ahead with the firework display."

bik/bw (AFP, AP, dpa)

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