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49 perish in fire at wedding in Srirangam

Bodies of victims being shifted from the first floor of a marriage hall at Srirangam, near Tiruchi in Tamil Nadu, where a fire broke out on Friday killing 49 persons. - Photo: S.R. Raghunathan

Bodies of victims being shifted from the first floor of a marriage hall at Srirangam, near Tiruchi in Tamil Nadu, where a fire broke out on Friday killing 49 persons. - Photo: S.R. Raghunathan  

TIRUCHI, JAN. 23. Forty-nine persons were killed and about 50 injured in a devastating fire during a wedding at a marriage hall at Srirangam in Tiruchi district of Tamil Nadu today.

Among the dead were the bridegroom, 20 women and four children.

The worst-ever tragedy in the temple town turned the joyous occasion into a nightmare as the fire razed down a thatched roof on the terrace of the marriage hall midway through the "suba muhurtham" (auspicious time). Dozens were trapped under the blazing thatched `pandal' that crashed.

The temporary structure put up atop the Padmapriya Marriage Hall on E.V. Srinivasachari Road at Renga Nagar had served as a makeshift venue for the ceremonies as the families had reportedly found the main hall downstairs too small to accommodate the anticipated turnout of guests. The terrace, measuring just about 50 x 40 ft, had only sidewalls and no proper roofing.

The bridegroom, R. Gururajan (40), an employee of the New India Assurance Company, was among those killed on the spot, while the bride, H. Jayasri (32), a teacher in a local school, suffered grievous injuries. Gururajan hailed from a family of purohits.

Though the cause of the fire is yet to be established, eyewitness accounts and preliminary police enquiries point to electrical short-circuiting from a wire of a videographer's camera. The accident, reported around 9.15 a.m., took place minutes after the bridegroom had been taken on the traditional `kasi yatra.'

The fire spread rapidly, feeding on the thatched roof and the plastic chairs and clothing material spread out on the floor. Within minutes the blaze engulfed the entire hall, including the makeshift stage where the bride and the groom were seated, killing at least 30 persons on the spot.

The burning thatched roof, said to be a low ceiling structure, collapsed on the guests. The fire and smoke and the consequent scramble blocked the exit routes.

Several people were trampled upon in a stampede as about 250 men, women and children panicked and rushed out to a narrow and cramped staircase at one end of the hall.

Most of those killed were elders and children who could not make their way out of the chaos and the raging fire. Four children, including three girls, all below the age of 10 were burnt alive. Many of the injured have sustained third degree burns. A few escaped by jumping out of the windows.

An eyewitness said that many tripped over a handicapped person caught in the melee at the staircase where bodies piled up. Burnt human flesh, utensils and the personal belongings of the dead and the injured lay strewn across the smouldering hall.

Fire and Rescue Service personnel from Srirangam and Tiruchi fought the blaze. Locals rallied around to rescue those trapped in the fire. The injured have been admitted to the K.A.P. Viswanatham Government Medical College Hospital, the Srirangam GH and private hospitals. Hospital sources said the toll could go up as at least a dozen of the injured were in a critical condition.

The Collector, K. Manivasan, the Inspector-General of Police, S. George, the range DIG and City Police Commissioner, Sunil Kumar Singh, visited the spot and called on the injured at the General Hospital.

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