VIRUDHUNAGAR: At least 19 people, including a pregnant woman and a college student, were killed and more than 30 injured in a fire accident triggered by an explosion at a firecracker factory at Achankulam village in Virudhunagar district on Friday.
However, local officials have been unable to confirm the exact number of casualties or their identities, but have said that at least 11 of the deceased are women.
District Fire Officer Ganesan said the mishap was caused by a reaction during the process of filling the crackers with chemicals while Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) attributed the high toll to the unit having been illegally sub-leased to many others.
Police said they have booked three persons, including the license owner Santhanamari, and are searching for all three of them.
The explosion was reported at 1.30 pm at the Nagpur-licensed Sree Mariyammal Fireworks factory, a unit with around 60 rooms, located 13 km from the nearest fire station.
Three rescue vehicles from Vembakottai, Sivakasi and Sattur were rushed to the spot along with 30 rescue personnel and four fire officers headed by District Fire Officer (DFO) Ganesan.
Fire personnel were able to find close to 50 victims after at least four hours of rescue operations.
Of them, nine were found charred to death at the spot, and nine others died while being treated.
As many as 15 rooms at the factory were completely damaged while 13 were partly damaged.
The injured were initially rushed to Government Hospitals at Sattur, Sivakasi and Kovilpatti as well as a few private hospitals at Sattur, but were later referred to Madurai’s Government Rajaji Hospital.
One of the victims who was admitted to the GRH, M Gopal (30) of Melatheru in Sattur who suffered 100% burn injures died, while the condition of J Vanarak (51) of Sattur who sustained 90% burn injuries is critical.
Meanwhile, the bodies of the deceased have been kept at a mortuary for family to identify. They will be handed over to kin after the postmortem on Saturday morning.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami are among the leaders to condole the deaths.
The PM announced a solatium of Rs 2 lakh each to the bereaved and Rs 50,000 to the injured, while the CM announced a solatium of Rs 3 lakh each to the bereaved and Rs 1 lakh each to the seriously injured.
"Fire at the cracker factory in Virudhunagar district is saddening. In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. I hope those injured recover soon. Authorities are working on the ground to assist those affected," Modi said in a tweet.
Expressing deep grief over the loss of lives, Palaniswami directed the district administration to provide appropriate treatment to those who have suffered injuries in the accident.
Palaniswami, in a statement, also urged cracker manufacturing units to function with appropriate security measures and manufacture crackers safely since summer is about to start in the State.
He also directed the concerned district collectors to inspect cracker manufacturing units frequently to ensure safety of the workers.