At least 54 persons were burnt to death and 50 injured today in a devastating blaze that raged through a fireworks factory on the outskirts of Sivakasi,the country’s cracker manufacturing hub.
The toll might go up as several persons were still feared trapped under the debris,police and fire brigade said – fire was doused by the evening amid intermittent explosions.
Officials said the dead bodies 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 Diwali. 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 Diwali shoppers,were killed at a cracker godown fire in Pallipattu in Tiruvallur district.
Officials said all the victims who perished in the fire had suffered more than 80 per cent burns.
The task was now to protect sheds where crackers had been stored in nearby areas,they said.
An angry mob in the area tried to enter the factory premises but were prevented by the police who sealed the area.
Senior minister O Panneerselvam and four other colleagues have rushed to the spot to oversee relief operations.
Officials attributed the delay in dousing fire to the lack of enough equipment for fire fighters,including masks.
Gutted fireworks unit resembles battleground
Bodies burnt beyond recognition and scores of injured lying all round presented a gory picture of a battleground at a nearby fireworks unit where a massive fire broke out.
Intermittent explosions were heard and flames threatened to engulf nearby buildings as rescuers fought thick plumes of smoke to reach those trapped.
Shocked people huddled in groups and some carried those with severe burns to ambulances,which were rushed to the spot soon after the incident at Omshakti Fireworks.
A thick pall of smoke engulfed the area and was visible from a distance of over 1.5 km.
A fire brigade official said 20 of the 40 rooms in the factory spread across 10 acres had been completely gutted and the debris was spread over a two kilometre radius.
He said they were unable to collect any data about the unit or workers as the people running it had fled the spot.
Though it was not clear how the fire had broken out,it quickly spread to other rooms,he said,adding that rescue operations were hampered as there was no proper road connectivity.
In an ironic twist to the tragedy,some people who tried saving those in the factory were also trapped in the thick smoke.
Tamizhmuni,a worker,said he came to unload stocks but fainted due to the heavy smoke.
Sivakasi is the largest hub for manufacturing matches and firecrackers,accounting for 90 per cent of the country’s total fireworks production.
Sivakasi is home to roughly around 450 factories employing 40,000 people and over one lakh indirectly,at an estimated annual turnover of between Rs 800 and Rs 1,000 crore.
CM condoles deaths in cracker unit fire:announces cash relief
Chennai: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa today condoled the deaths of persons in a fire mishap at Sivakasi and announced a cash relief of Rs two lakh 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.
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