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TN fire: Kids paid the price for obedience

July 16, 2004 18:25 IST
Last Updated: July 16, 2004 19:40 IST

Obedience to teachers appears to have played a key role for the high death toll in the fire tragedy that struck a school complex in the temple town of Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu's Thanjavur district. The toll is 80.

Police said most of the students did not move out of their classes after one of the teachers ordered them to remain in their places as the fire was 'too minor' and was being doused.

"Do not get panicky… remain in your place," was the teacher's command to the pupils who were ultimately trapped by the inferno.

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District Collector Dr J Radhakrishnan told newspersons that the dead included 27 boys and 33 girls. The remaining were charred beyond recognition.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, who flew to Kumbakonam by a helicopter, visited the accident site and also spent nearly 45 minutes in the government hospital where the bodies had been kept. The collector said 27 children were undergoing treatment in the hospital. The condition of 15 is critical.

Another reason for the toll to mount was the narrow escape route between the third floor, where the tragedy took place, and the other two floors.


Fire service personnel had to demolish the walls with the help of cranes to gain easy access to the third floor.


As news of the tragedy broke out, a pall of gloom descended on the temple town where people in large numbers had gathered to offer worship on the auspicious 'Dakshyana Punniya Kalam', the first day of the Tamil month 'Adi'.


Heart-rending scenes were witnessed at the narrow Kasiraman street where the school complex is situated. On hearing about the tragedy, a large number of people gathered, making the rescue job of fire fighters difficult.


Half burnt and charred bodies of children were piled up on the third floor and stench enveloped the entire building.


Grief-stricken parents and relatives of children were sobbing, anxiety writ large on their faces, awaiting news of their wards.

According to a passer-by, as soon as he came to know of the tragedy, he pulled out at least half a dozen students to safety while another said some children died due to suffocation.

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