“I’ve never witnessed anything of this sort. The sight of the bodies will haunt me until my end,” a shaken Muraleedharan Pillai said.
Mr. Pillai, one of the coordinators of the Meena Bharani festival at the Puttingal Devi Temple, was among the very few who had a narrow escape in the tragedy that struck the locality in the early hours of Sunday. With 10 others, he was in the Devaswom Board building, a few minutes before the structure was destroyed in the impact of the explosion in the ‘Kambapura’ (storehouse of the firecrackers). They managed to flee to a safer zone after seeing the fireworks going off the intended course.
Following the blast, the festival ground of the temple resembled a war zone with bodies — disfigured, severed and charred — and concrete chunks strewn all over the place.
“We sprang into action quickly. While the few ambulances that were parked in the vicinity were soon filled, we loaded some buses that were parked nearby with those injured and the dead. I still have blood stains on my hands and body,” Mr. Pillai said.
Ramesh Sasidharan, a temple priest from Puchakkal in Alappuzha said: “Had it not been for the swift reaction of the residents and others, who managed to flee to safety, we would have lost many more lives in the incident.”
There were some among the local residents who felt there were safety lapses on the part of the authorities.
C.R. Jijy Chandran, whose house suffered extensive damage, said the number of policemen deployed for the festival was inadequate to deal with such an emergency.
The pyrotechnics display, usually organised as a competition, marks the culmination of the weeklong festival.
In a notice that was distributed, the programme was billed as the “biggest temple competition” to be held in south Kerala with over Rs. 10 lakh to be handed over as prize money. Little did the residents know that the festival would take a tragic turn.