Kerala blast | There was no security threat, say congregation members

There has not been any need to deploy security guards or seek police protection, say members of the congregation; twice a day, organisers have been announcing about the six main exit doors that can be used in case of any untoward incident

October 29, 2023 08:38 pm | Updated October 30, 2023 05:59 pm IST - KOCHI

People react after a blast during a Jehovah’s Witnesses meeting at a convention centre in Kalamassery in Kerala’s Ernakulam district on October 29, 2023.

People react after a blast during a Jehovah’s Witnesses meeting at a convention centre in Kalamassery in Kerala’s Ernakulam district on October 29, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

Organisers of the three-day annual zonal meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses at a convention centre at Kalamassery, which was rocked by an explosion on Sunday morning, used to make announcements twice daily about six main exit doors at the venue that could be used in case of any untoward incident, members of the denomination said.

Two women died and over two dozen others suffered severe burn injuries in the incident.

A scene inside the convention centre soon after the blast.

A scene inside the convention centre soon after the blast. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The announcements to over 2,000 people who gathered there were made during morning and afternoon on each day of the three-day zonal meet that was set to conclude on Sunday, said Roby Thomas from Varapuzha, one among the ‘elders’ of the congregation. “This is a standard practice that was being adopted through the years, even as there was no specific warning, suspicious activity or threats to such meetings so far. There was no security threat, so there was no need to deploy security guards or seek police protection. Adequate number of volunteers had been deployed to ensure safety of the premises and streamline parking.”

Also read: Kerala convention centre blast live updates

They bore badges displaying the year’s central theme ‘Kshamayode Katthirikkuka’ (Wait with Patience). “This is an exhortation to practice patience in one’s day-to-day life. I was engaged in helping arrange seats when there were three blasts, followed by fire. We helped guide people out of the hall within minutes,” he added.

Ordeal recounted

Santamma, a member from Aluva, said the explosions rocked the centre of the hall as soon as she was walking towards the exit with her grandchild who was crying. “I turned back and saw the centre of the hall in flames.” Yet another member Edward spoke of how his daughter, who was in the hall, recounted the multiple explosions that were followed by thick smoke. Over 30 people were taken to hospital, mostly with burn injuries.

Ministers K. Rajan, V.N. Vasavan, Antony Raju, and Kochi Mayor M. Anil Kumar visiting those undergoing treatment at the Government Medical College on Sunday.

Ministers K. Rajan, V.N. Vasavan, Antony Raju, and Kochi Mayor M. Anil Kumar visiting those undergoing treatment at the Government Medical College on Sunday.

Another volunteer, James from the congregation’s Thrikkakkara branch, said the repeated announcements about exit points helped many people leave the hall without much of a commotion.

James, a volunteer, at the Kalamassery blast site on Sunday.

James, a volunteer, at the Kalamassery blast site on Sunday. | Photo Credit: JOHN L. PAUL

With the police sealing the compound, bags and other belongings of most people were secured within the hall for inspection. The district administration and the Motor Vehicles department arranged private buses for people to reach home, since there were curbs during the first few hours on taking out cars and other vehicles.

Many people from the locality converged at the venue on hearing the news of the explosions which were initially suspected to be the aftermath of a short circuit.

V.V. Michael from Thrikkakkara said the congregation had over 4,000 members in Ernakulam district alone, spread across 20 branches.

A team led by Thrikkakara ACP is spearheading the probe into the suspected IED blast. The police were asked to intensify round-the-clock patrol at important places and arrange anti-sabotage checks, mainly at malls, markets, convention centres, cinemas, bus stands, railway stations, public gatherings, tourist and worship places in the wake of the explosion.

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