Catholic bishops mourn Kerala temple fire deaths 

Published on: 8:36 am, April 10, 2016 Story By:

New Delhi: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Sunday joined national and social leaders to express shock and grief over a temple fire that killed more than 100 people and wounded 350 others in Kerala.

President Pranab Mukherjee has expressed “heartfelt condolences” over the loss of lives in the massive fire that engulfed the Puttingal Devi Temple complex at Paravoor near Kollam. Paravoor is some 60 km north of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the southern Indian state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kerala with a team of 15 specialists to help those injured in the temple fire.

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala took the Prime minister around the temple precincts and briefed him on the incident. Later, PM Modi visited the district hospital and met the injured.

Calling the incident “very unfortunate,” the Prime Minister said, “I told the CM that if the injured need to be shifted to Delhi, Mumbai, the Centre will help them.”

Earlier in the day, the premier tweeted that the fire was “heart-rending and shocking” and asked the state government to “suspend protocol” for his visit, which means that Chief Minister Oommen Chandy or his ministers do not have to receive him on arrival.

“Fire at temple in Kollam is heart-rending and shocking beyond words. My thoughts are with families of the deceased and prayers with the injured,” Modi said in his tweets.

The prime minister has asked the navy to send helicopters for rescue efforts.

The navy and the Indian Air Force have dispatched six helicopters and one Dornier aircraft federal Health Minister JP Nadda is also heading to the site of the tragedy.

The prime minister has announced 200,000 rupees each as compensation to the relatives of the dead and 50,000 rupees to those injured.

A press note from CBCI spokesperson Fr Gyanprakash Toppo says the bishops’ conference shares “the sorrow of the bereaved families, prays for the repose of the departed souls.

The CBCI headquarters has alerted Quilon and neighboring dioceses, Catholic hospitals and social service centers to “render all possible assistance to the injured and all those affected by this tragedy, the press note said.

The massive fire broke out at 3 am on April 10 during a fireworks display. The fire started at a ground near the temple where some 15,000 people were watching an all-night fireworks display. The state government had banned the firework display, according to reports. At least 106 people died in the tragedy.

Visuals on TV showed huge clouds of white smoke and explosions in the night sky. Successive explosions sent huge chunks of concrete flying as far as a kilometer according to a witness. Some parts of the temple roof caved in.

Officials said a spark ignited a stack of fireworks stored for the Vishu, Kerala’s New Year festival that falls on April 14. The fire broke out in a deafening explosion and brought down a two-storey building around which people were gathered, reported quoted witnesses.

The Kerala chief minister said the temple had defied orders not to allow “competitive fireworks,” which are a tradition during the seven-day festival of Goddess Kali.

A police case has been registered against the temple authorities.

Three naval ships, a Dornier aircraft and two Chetak helicopters have joined the rescue efforts.

The injured have been taken to 10 hospitals. Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said the administration has made all necessary arrangements in Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram to treat the wounded.

The Government Medical College in Thiruvananthapuram sent out an appeal for blood donors.

The Chief Minister tweeted that his government had asked the Election Commission for permission to help those affected in the middle of an election.

Kerala is scheduled to elect its 140-member legislative assembly on May 16.

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