04/11/2016, 09.27
INDIA
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Kerala: Pope’s condolences as death toll from Puttingal Temple fire climbs

The latest toll speaks of 112 dead and 350 injured. The dead are unrecognizable and will be identifiable only through DNA tests. Pope Francis prays for the deceased and the injured. The authorities have arrested five people who set off fireworks without authorization. They also consider laying charges against the temple administration, aware of the dangers of the fireworks display.

Thiruvananthapuram (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The death toll from the tragic fire that occurred yesterday at Puttingal temple of Paravur, Kerala, has risen to 112 victims. The injured are over 350, and have been transported urgently to Trivandrum Medical College in the State capital.

The temple was crowded with faithful, about 15 thousand people, who were celebrating the beginning of the Hindu New Year.

Pope Francis, on learning of the accident, sent a message of condolence for the victims. Signed by Vatican secretary of state, Card. Pietro Parolin, the message reads: "His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the tragic fire at the Puttingal temple complex in Paravur, and he sends condolences to the relatives of the deceased and injured. Praying for all affected by this tragedy, and for the relief efforts underway, Pope Francis invokes upon the nation the divine blessings of strength and peace".

The police have arrested five persons and laid charges against the two contractors who were in charge of the fireworks. The authorities are also considering laying charges against the temple administration, guilty of violating an ordinance that prohibits fireworks in the district. The five arrested, however, set off fires without permission.

The incident occurred yesterday morning, around 3:10 (local time). The faithful were looking at the fireworks to celebrate the New Year, when suddenly there was an explosion in the shed ("Kambapuram" in Hindi) where the fires were stacked.

Within minutes the warehouse was engulfed in flames and exploded, collapsing in on itself and burying whoever was below. Rescue teams have struggled to extract the wounded, and the identification of the victims, in unrecognizable condition, is only possible through DNA testing.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who rushed to the scene, was speechless at what he saw. Later visiting the wounded in hospital, he said: "This is heartbreaking and shocking".

The temple is now under investigation because, according to information from the Indian press, it was aware of possible dangers related to the security of the event. Despite everything, it gave the green light to the show, which began around midnight, although the Supreme Court had banned fireworks after 10 pm.

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