India police say 7 connected to temple surrender after fire

By The Canadian Press
April 11, 2016 - 11:32am

NEW DELHI — Seven people who fled after a weekend fire killed at least 116 people at the southern Indian temple where they are board members have surrendered to authorities to face prosecution, police said Tuesday.

The seven were taken into custody late Monday after a two-day search by police following Sunday's fire in the Kerala state village of Paravoor, said Gupakumar, a police officer who uses one name.

Police are investigating temple board members and associates of firework contractors for possible charges of attempted murder and culpable homicide, both punishable by life imprisonment, and illegally storing a cache of explosives.

Besides the deaths in the early Sunday blaze at the Hindu Puttingal Devi temple complex, more than 380 people were injured. Around 200 of the injured are still being treated in various hospitals, M. Palanai, another police officer, said Tuesday.

Fireworks and firecrackers are commonly used at temple festivals in southern India and during weddings across the country. Several temples often compete to stage the most spectacular ones every year.

The demand for firecrackers shoots up during Hindu festival seasons across India, leading to mushrooming of manufacturing units.

On Tuesday, police raided factories making firecrackers without government licenses in Kerala state and seized 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosives from a warehouse in the town of Attingal near the temple site, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

Rescue workers were sifting through the debris for clues about how an unauthorized fireworks display sparked the fire that swept through the temple as it was packed with thousands for a religious festival.

Police questioned five workers Monday about fireworks stored at the site, hoping to learn more about who owned the fireworks and who had contracted the pyrotechnical display, police constable R. Unnikrishnan Nair said. The five were later released.

Villagers and police had to pull many of the injured out from under slabs of concrete and twisted steel girders.

Ashok Sharma, The Associated Press

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