January 23, 2004. A day that will be remembered with much sorrow and a sense of loss by families and friends of R Gururajan and H Jayasri.
It was meant to be a joyous occasion for Gururajan (40), an employee of the New India Assurance Company, and H Jayasri (32), a teacher at a local school here, who were to be married.
But, destiny played a cruel twist. The groom and 63 others were charred to death in an inferno that broke out at the crowded Padmapriya Marriage Hall on EV Srinivasachari Road at Renga Nagar.
The marriage rituals were on at a temporary structure put up atop the hall. Around 9.15 am, after the traditional ‘Kasi Yatra’ was over, the sudden fire that broke out from an electrical short-circuit from a wire of a videographer’s camera, spread rapidly engulfing the the plastic chairs and clothing materials spread on the floor. Soon, the entire hall, including the bridal dais, was engulfed. As many as 33 persons, including the bride, suffered burns.
Eyewitnesses said the charred bodies were brought in lorries and ambulances and kept in front of the mortuary. Of the 40-odd bodies brought there within a couple of hours of the blaze, several were completely burnt and it was a macabre sight, they recalled.
Thirty-odd burn victims were shifted to the burns ward. A dozen others with burns were taken to nearby private hospitals. Several of the shocked relatives were devastated and even forgot to shed a tear for the victims, while others remained dazed, unable to recount what went wrong on such an auspicious occasion. It took them a while to identify the bodies.
The crowd swelled with every passing moment as relatives rushed to the hospital. About half of the 33 persons, who were admitted to the Government Hospital, suffered less than 50 per cent burns. Those admitted to private hospitals had burns ranging from 10 to 80 per cent.
Over 100 police personnel were deployed in the Government Hospital to manage the crowd. Police said 30 inspectors from Tiruchy, Karur and Pudukottai districts were summoned to conduct an inquest prior to the post mortem. A team of six doctors conducted the autopsies.The Superintendents of Police of Tiruchy, Karur and Pudukottai districts were all camping at the hospital. Apart from regular doctors, four physicians were pressed into service. All home surgeons were mobilised and put on 24-hour duty.
The whole city joined the relatives in mourning the dead and empathised with the injured. For the victims, the wounds may have healed. But the scars would be etched deep in their hearts.