THANJAVUR: It was all over in a matter of minutes and before people could realise what was happening, 11 persons were electrocuted to death and others ran helter-skelter in disbelief while the temple chariot was ablaze.
The Appar temple car procession in Thanjavur on Wednesday ended in a tragedy that led to an outpouring of grief and anguish from various quarters.
"People were thrown away, they just fell down. I could see a man lying here and another one there and the unfolding scene was freghtening as we could not understand what was happening," a woman eyewitness said.
Villagers say that the wooden temple chariot, with parts being iron based fitment, was decorated with colourful lights especially on the top, and it came into contact with the overhead electricity line.
The chariot's lighting was powered by a mobile generator.
This was tied to the rear end of the temple car.
Local men said the lights on the top of the chariot and the foldable structure that supported it came in contact with the High Tension overhead powerline, leading to electrocution.
"Organisers could not go near the generator, leave alone turning it off. Obviously no one was sure from where the electricity was originating and how it was passing on and it was mayhem," a villager who witnessed the procession move on said.
Also, in keeping with the custom, water was poured on the ground on which the chariot was set to arrive on any street and the wet surface too contributed in conducting the electricity.
"When some people poured water to douse fire in a particular spot, it conducted electricity further and added to the chaos injuring people," another man said.
The chariot that was by then ablaze was eventually gutted.
At the same time, the injured people, which includes both severely injured and others with relatively less severity, screamed in pain drawing local people in hordes.
They could however do nothing much as power conductivity was still live.
It soon became apparent that the persons lying motionless here and there could be dead.
When they were rushed to the hospital, the fears of the families of participants in the temple event and local people became true.
"It was all over in a matter of minutes. It took a while for us to understand that people were dead and many were injured," a local man said.
Electricity Minister V Senthilbalaji, explaining about the accident in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, said that the power transmission automatically snapped in the HT overhead line (33 KV) since the top portion of the chariot 'came within the electricity conduction range'.
The power transmission on the line stopped within 0.19 seconds through the 'Relay Indication' mechanism, he said.
Subsequently, there was fire on the top portion of the chariot, and people used water to douse it while the generator was still running and supplying power, he said.
"This accident may have happened as the generator continued to supply electricity to power the lighting though the electricity transmission on the 33 KV HT line stopped," the Minister said.
Also, Senthilbalaji said the HT line was 'well above 23 feet' from the ground surface.
Though the top portion of the chariot was foldable, it did not bend when people were turning the direction of the car.
Had this top structure folded, this accident could have been fully averted, he said.
"An inquiry is on," he added.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister M K Stalin visited the families of the victims in Thanjavur District and conveyed his condolences.
Also, he visited the injured people, being treated at the Thanjavur Government Medical College Hospital.
A senior police official said, "whether the chariot's top portion actually touched the HT line or not is part of the investigation.
FIR is registered and a probe is on.
A senior official of the state electricity corporation TANGEDCO (Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation) told PTI that there are standard guidelines for holding such events.
"During temple chariot processions, power supply usually is switched off in specified areas. Once the chariot crosses a particular street, supply is restored to such an area already covered by the temple car. Our field personnel would be on the spot for coordination," he said.
"We are not sure if local electricity officials were notified in advance about this temple event."
Pontiff of a Veera Shaiva math, Mailam Bommapuram Aadheenam said for any such temple event, appropriate permission should be obtained from all relevant government authorities.
"When we hold events according to the guidelines and advice of experts, such accidents can be averted," he told reporters in Chennai.
The Appar temple is in Kalimedu under the Melaveli village of Thanjavur District in Cauvery delta region of Tamil Nadu, about 350 km from Chennai.
The chariot procession was taken by devotees as part of the annual celebrations.
Mishaps involving temple chariots have happened in the past in Tamil Nadu, like an incident at Tiruparankundram and another accident at Namakkal.
Years ago, several people were injured when they came under a wheel of a temple car in Tiruvannamalai during a temple procession.
Two persons were killed recently in stampede at the Madurai Chithirai festival.