Maximum deaths follow second explosion that took rescuers by surprise

Thirty-eight persons, including two women, most of them believed to be villagers who rushed to the site of an explosion at a cracker unit, were killed when a large stock of explosives blew up on Wednesday afternoon. Thirty-three persons were wounded and have been admitted to government hospitals in Virudhunagar district and Madurai.

The tragedy took place at Mudalipatti, 13 km from Sivakasi, a region known for frequent accidents in the match and fireworks industries.

Though no bodies were found on the premises of Om Sakthi Fireworks Industries during the initial search by police and revenue officials, the death toll was confirmed after the removal of concrete sheds of at least three working areas flattened in the impact of the explosion. With earthmovers not reaching the site early, rescue work could not be taken up till 6.30 p.m.

The first explosion at the unit, one of the biggest in the region, was reported at 12.20 p.m. Villagers of Mudalipatti and workers of a nearby blue metal crusher unit rushed to the spot. A small posse of police tried to prevent the villagers from entering the unit, but the 500-strong crowd managed to get past the police. “Our inspector Raja tried to stop them but they did not heed his words,” said Virudhunagar Superintendent of Police Najmul Hoda.

“Unexpectedly, there was a huge explosion around 1 p.m. and the debris that flew across a wide distance injured them seriously,” District Revenue Officer R. Raju, who was at the site, said. Crackers and unfinished goods were seen strewn for more than a half-km radius at the entrance. “A huge stone hit the jeep of the Virudhunagar Tahsildar some 500 metres away from the cracker unit.”

Details of the number of workers employed and those present at the time of the incident were not available with officials. Even the police and firemen did not enter the premises for some time on seeing the bodies and the grievous nature of the injuries. Ten fire tenders, including some from Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Madurai districts, were parked in a serpentine queue outside the unit. The first one entered the unit only at 3.30 p.m. after the entrance was cleared of debris.

Many of the working sheds were damaged as a strong gust of wind fanned the fire. The injured, who were rescued by the villagers, were rushed to the government hospitals.