THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (AP) — A massive fire broke out during a fireworks display in a south Indian temple early Sunday, killing more than 80 people and injuring at least 200 more, a top official said.
The fire started when a spark from a fireworks show ignited a separate batch of fireworks that were being stored at the Puttingal temple complex in Paravoor village, a few hours north of Kerala’s state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, State Home Minister Ramesh Chennitala.
Thousands had been packed into the temple complex when a big explosion erupted around 3 a.m., officials said. The blaze then spread quickly through the temple, trapping devotees within.
At least 84 people were killed, said a Kerala police official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to give his name to journalists.
Local TV channels broadcast images of huge clouds of white smoke billowing from the temple, as fireworks were still going off in the night sky. Successive explosions from the building storing the fireworks sent huge chunks of concrete flying as far as a kilometer (a half mile), according to resident Jayashree Harikrishnan.
“Huge pieces of concrete were flying through the air. Chunks landed in our yard,” she said.
By morning, firefighters had brought the blaze under control, officials said. Rescuers were sifting through the wreckage in search of survivors, while backhoes were clearing the debris and ambulances ferried the injured to nearby hospitals.
Every year, the temple holds a competitive fireworks display, with different groups putting on successive light shows for thousands of devotees gathered for the last day of a seven-day festival honoring the goddess Bhadrakali, a southern Indian incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali.
This year’s competition was happening without permission, after the state’s High Court banned competitive light shows at temples.
State Labor Minister Shibu Baby John said incident would be investigated, and the victims would be compensated.
Associated Press writers Nirmala George and Katy Daigle in New Delhi contributed to this report.