India

Kollam temple blast: Discarded shoes 'signs of scramble'

Discarded sandal outside the Puttingal temple, 10 April 2016
Image caption Discarded shoes at the scene of the blast were all signs of the mad scramble that erupted as people tried to save themselves

Outside the Puttingal temple there was an eerie silence one night after the fire tragedy.

Rubble and firecracker shells were scattered all over the ground. And shoes. Lots of them.

A pink flip-flop, one black sandal, a white sports shoe that's upside down - they were all lying not far from each other, all signs of the mad scramble that erupted as people tried to save themselves.

There was still a whiff of firecrackers in the air, and over parts of the ground, it was mixed with the smell of rotting flesh. It persists, even though all of the dead bodies have now been removed from the site.

Some say the tragedy would have been much worse if the fire had started earlier in the evening. A local politician told me the explosion occurred right at the end of the fireworks display.

'Globe of fire'

All the eyewitnesses I spoke to said a burning firecracker landed on a concrete structure inside which the explosives were stored, and that's what sparked the blaze.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionYogita Limaye: "It took hours for firemen to battle the blaze and pull out anyone they could find alive"

One of the injured, Pradeep Gopalan, described what followed as a "globe of fire".

He had travelled about 30km (20 miles) from his village to the temple to watch the festivities.

He tried to run but got trapped.

"Big pieces of concrete flew off the structure and one hit me on my back," he said. "I couldn't move. I just lay there."

Pradeep was rescued by the police, but many others weren't as fortunate.

"I saw severed limbs, and bodies lying in a pool of blood. Some of them were children," he said, clearly haunted by what he's witnessed, but grateful to be with his family as he recovers at the Kollam district hospital.

On a bed next to Pradeep, Chandra Haasan's son was being treated for a fracture in his leg. Mr Haasan says it was mainly because the concrete building collapsed that there have been so many casualties.

"We were half a kilometre away, and my son has still been injured. It was like an earthquake," he said.

"I went with many people from my village. Three of them died."

Worst disaster

Image caption There was still a whiff of firecrackers in the air nearly 24 hours after the blast

Throughout Sunday people had been coming to a help desk that was set up just outside the hospital building hoping to find their loved ones.

Most of the dead bodies had been handed over to the families, but a few are still to be identified.

Kollam's district hospital had a string of high-profile visitors. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit was followed shortly by opposition leader Rahul Gandhi's arrival.

Several political parties have organised food and other supplies for the injured and their families.

Some believe this is because elections are due in Kerala next month, others though say it's simply because this is perhaps the worst disaster the area has ever seen.

Related Topics

More on this story