Three of the total of 16 houses in the complex completely destroyed

Two women died on the spot while three others sustained injuries when a gas cylinder exploded in a residential complex – with 16 single-room houses located very close to each other – at Valayakara Street, in Erode, during the wee hours of Sunday.

Saraswathi (80) and Mahalakshmi (40), mother and sister of the owner of the building, were killed on the spot.

The building owner Varadharajalu (54), a Home Guards Area Commander, suffered more than 50 per cent burns.

He was treated at the Erode Government Hospital while Leading Fireman M. Rajkumar (57) who suffered 20 to 25 per cent burns was treated at a private hospital in Coimbatore.

One of the residents Moideen sustained minor injuries while rescuing his neighbours and was treated as an outpatient.

District Fire Officer (DFO) Thee. Madhiyalagan told The Hindu that a passer-by saw smoke emanating from one of the houses and informed the owner, who in turn informed the Fire Department at 4.50 a.m.

“We reached the spot at 5 a.m. with a 12-member team and two fire engines (water tenders) to douse the flames,” he added.

“There was no one in the house as they had gone out on Saturday night. Evacuation of occupants in the nearby house and fire fighting was underway when the owner tried to break open the door of the house on fire, with a metal lever,” the DFO said.

“Varadharajalu and Rajkumar who were standing close to the door suffered severe burns. The two women who were in the house next to the house that was on fire were badly burnt in the explosion. They were caught below the walls that were damaged in the explosion and died on the spot,” the DFO noted.

The rescue team removed inflammable materials (four LPG cylinders and five litres of kerosene) from the nearby houses to avoid further damage.

Mr. Madhiyalagan said three of the total of 16 houses in the complex was completely destroyed while the explosion left deep cracks in the other houses.

The DFO said occupants of houses in the building were relocated to a nearby marriage hall as they feared that there was a chance for the rest of the old and weak building to collapse. The Police and Fire Services personnel suspected that the fire could have been caused by poor electrical wiring.

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