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52 persons were burnt to death – fireworks factory blaze

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At least 52 persons were burnt to death and 50 injured on Wednesday in a devastating blaze that raged through a fireworks factory on the outskirts of Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu.

The toll is expected to rise as several persons were still feared trapped under the debris, police and fire brigade said, as the fire was doused by the evening amid intermittent explosions.

Officials said the victims had been accounted for from hospitals at Sattur (16), Virudhunagar (13), Sivakasi (21). Two others died on way to a hospital in Madurai.

Almost all those killed were workers, with some persons, who rushed inside the factory complex to try and rescue those trapped inside, also falling victim to the blaze, they said.

The tragedy struck when workers were engaged in mixing chemicals for fancy fireworks. The blaze gutted all 48 sheds located in the premises of Omshakthi fireworks factory, police and fire officials said.

They said the entire production had been stored in a godown against official advice.

The sheds were reduced to ashes in the sprawling complex of the company and the debris had to be cleared to get a clear picture of the actual number of casualties, an official said.

Fire officials said that due to a variety of chemicals used in pyrotechnics crackers, there was thick and suffocating smoke, making their task difficult to enter the factory. The smoke could be seen 1.5 km away from the spot.

“These are times ahead of Deepavali. So activities go on at breakneck speed in the cracker units,” Virudhunagar District Superintendent of Police Najmul Hoda said.

A factory official said 300 persons were at work at the unit at the time of the incident.

Thousands of people thronged the area near the factory to inquire about the fate of their relatives working in the unit.

In October 2009, 32 people, most of them Deepavali shoppers, were killed at a cracker godown fire in Pallipattu in Tiruvallur district.

Our Correspondent adds

The first explosion happened at 12.20 p.m. at the unit, which is one of the biggest fireworks complexes in the region. The loud noise attracted onlookers from surrounding villages and a nearby stone crusher unit when another blast took place around 1 p.m.

By 4 p.m., 30 deaths have been reported so far. Three fire tenders managed to enter the premises around 3.40 p.m. but rescue work could not begin immediately as more explosions were feared. Remnants of fireworks could be seen strewn at a distance of half a km from the blast site.

Debris from the building hit a vehicle of the Department of Revenue stationed at a distance of one km. Private and government ambulances have been requisitioned to shift the injured to nearby hospitals.

Jayalalithaa offers cash relief

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa on Wednesday condoled the deaths of persons in a fire mishap at Sivakasi and announced a cash relief of Rs 2 lakhs each to next of kin of those killed.

The Chief Minister expressed shock and grief over the incident and also deputed five of her cabinet colleagues, including Finance Minister O Panneerselvam to console the relatives and meet the injured in hospital.

The relief to the families would be given from the Chief Minister’s General Relief Fund, she said.

Wishing a speedy recovery to the injured, she announced Rs 25,000 and Rs 10,000 respectively for those who had suffered serious and simple injuries.

She said 78 persons had sustained injuries. “I have asked the local administration to provide them with good medical care,” she said in a statement. Further, a team of doctors has also been deputed from Madurai, she added.

Governor K Rosaiah also condoled the deaths and said he prayed that the departed souls rest in peace. – The Hindu