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40 killed in Thanjavur temple fire

Forty people were killed and 86 injured as a fire broke out late on Saturday evening at the Brihadeeswara temple in Thanjavur.

The incident occurred hours before the Mahakumbabishekam ceremony. Eyewitnesses said a fire cracker lit near the temple fell on the yagasala and sparked the fire which was fuelled by inflammable materials like ghee and thatched roofs.

Instantly, panic-stricken devotees surged towards the only entrance to the temple on the eastern side, causing a stampede which claimed several lives. However, another version said the fire was caused by a spark from the electric generator. The entire yagasala was gutted.

According to D V Thaigarajan, dean of the Thanjavur medical college, most of the deaths were caused by the inhalation of carbon monoxide while a few due to burn injuries. The toll may go up as many of the injured are said to be in serious condition.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi on Sunday announced a compensation of Rs 100,000 each to families of the deceased. Addressing the media after visiting the injured in the hospitals, Karunanidhi said the injured would be paid from Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000 each.

On his return to Madras, the chief minister on Monday ruled out a judicial inquiry into the fire, but offered to constitute a committee comprising officials and experts to suggest ways to prevent recurrence of such mishaps in future.

Denying that the fire tenders stationed near the temple did not have water, he said the fire could not be put out immediately as the units could not reach the mishap site in view of the huge temple walls and the iron barricade on the other side. About 1,400 policemen joined the officials in rescuing the people.

Karunanidhi said the bodies of 33 people had been identified. The chief minister said the devotees could not escape to safety easily as the yagasala was constructed between the two temple towers.

The chief minister said the Mahakumbabaishekamwas performed on Monday morning and that about 120,000 people witnessed the ritual.


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