Thiruvananthapuram: People living near the Devi temple at Puttingal remember Sunday morning’s fireworks accident that claimed 109 lives with a shudder. Out of 25 houses close to the temple complex, 20 are damaged. Half a dozen of those houses suffered substantial damage from the shock and projectiles.
B Saijal, a retired defence personnel living near the temple, said that mishaps had started to occur from the start of the fireworks show at the temple. “One person was evacuated after he suffered serious burns,” said Saijal. “I saw the ambulances moving out of the temple compound four times while I was watching the display from the rooftop of my house,” he recounted.
The explosion occurred after a skyrocket exploded at low altitude sending sparks in all directions. The sound was deafening and projectiles flew over his head, said Saijal. Soil and debris fell over him. Inside the house, cement fell from the ceiling on women in the house. It was darkness all over.
In the morning, family members saw the door open and initially thought some thieves had entered the house. Soon, they discovered that the doors had been blown off and window panes had been broken.
Saijal said that it was not unusual for cracks to occur during the fireworks display at the temple in the previous years. “Though the temple committee promised compensation to those affected, the money never came,” he stated.
He said that he saw as many as 15 bodies were spread out on the ground near his house in the morning. Bus and autorickshaw drivers did a commendable job of taking the injured to the hospital.
On Monday, the temple compound was still scattered with debris and the remains of the deadly fireworks display. Abandoned vehicles, damaged furniture and what was left of make-shift shops lay here and there.
A woman living in one of the houses, which is close to the temple gates, said that she felt a tremor past 3 pm. “The house trembled and I thought the kitchen had collapsed,” she said. “I could see nothing because the power blackout. My granddaughter who was sleeping upstairs woke up and started crying incessantly.” The power outage was the result of the crashing of electric posts and snapping of the power lines.
In the morning, she found that the windows of her house had gone off the frames. The screws had come off and were strewn about. There was debris on her rooftop.
G Haridas, a trader living near the temple, said he saw a lot of smoke and fire as the store house of explosives (kambapura) caught fire. “A rocket fell on an ice cream parlour and burst, destroying the shop fully,” he said. “Another fell on a car damaging it.”
His house trembled and most parts of his house were damaged. “Only my shop was saved,” said Haridas. “I have suffered damages of more than Rs 1 lakh. Who will compensate me?” He said that an astrologer had warned the managing committee of heavy loss of life if they continued to disturb the temple.
Several people living near the temple had complaints about the fireworks being held every year in connection with the Meenabharani festival. However, only an 80-year-old lady, Pankajakshi, had preferred a complaint with the Collector A Shainamol. Her house had suffered damages in the past as well as now. Usually, she keeps off the house during the fireworks at night.
The temple was a private one which was under receivership for long over dispute over its control. The present managing committee is controlled by the Nair and Ezhava communities. However, the Kurava community has some rights over part of the temple compound. Locals say the Kuravas were agitated over what had happened in the temple. Some of them allegedly destroyed a new building being constructed in the temple compound for the managing committee last night.