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When Kumbakonam was abandoned by its gods

A Ganesh Nadar in Kumbakonam | July 17, 2004 16:47 IST
Last Updated: July 17, 2004 21:13 IST

There is a crowd of onlookers around the Sri Krishna Primary School. The school building, hedged by two other buildings, is like a long corridor.

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At 10:30 am on Friday, a fierce fire raged here. Over 70 children -- boys and girls -- were burnt alive in a matter of few minutes. The toll has since risen to 90.

The fire started in the kitchen, where food was being cooked for the children. In Tamil Nadu, a noon meal is provided free of cost to all school students.

A popular scheme, introduced by legendary Congress leader K Kamaraj, has suddenly been blotted by a tragedy.

The school's thatched roofs were recently repaired. The thatching material that was removed was not disposed off. It was stacked outside the kitchen. It was this discarded material that first caught fire.

When the cooks noticed the fire, they jumped over the wall and fled. In minutes, the flames spread.

There are two staircases in this building. The thatched roofs fell over the staircase in the rear part of the building blocking that escape route.
The staircase in the front part of the building is narrower.A grieving mother
When the fire started, there were 240 children in the building. The watchman was nowhere around. Having locked the front gate, he had gone to have tea.

Only a small door outside Principal Saraswati's office was open.

The fire service personnel broke the locked gate open and entered the premises a little after 11:00 am. They broke a wall near the gate to widen the exit route. Fire Officer K Kumar was injured while bringing down the wall.

Once they had the way in, 80 firemen brought the children out -- seventy-seven dead and many others critically injured.
They were taken to the government hospital in autos, cabs, cars. Every vehicle on the road was used, every hand helped.

The fire was brought under control in two hours.

While around 60 bodies were cremated on Saturday, several were yet to be identified on Saturday. Mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts clutched to each other as they went around looking for the last remains of their children.

A man complained he was not being given enough time to identify his child. Collector J  Radhakrishnan, who hadn't been home since Friday, asked the cops to help the man.

Ambulances took away the identified bodies.

Twenty odd men and women waited in the hall. The collector instructed his officials to disburse the Rs 100,000 compensation declared by Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa to the family of those killed in the fire.
Jayalalithaa spent 15 minutes at the school on Friday. She cancelled the school's recognition and suspended four officials of the Department of Education.

Kumbakonam is known as the temple town. It has at least three temples in every street. The Mahamaham is held here every twelve years.

But on Saturday afternoon, as the sun beat down mercilessly on its streets, the town looked abandoned by its gods.

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Number of User Comments: 90

Sub: condolences

when I hear the news I was too abset, this will not happen anywhere in the world. every father and mother know how is difficult ...

Posted by hameed

Sub: kumbhakonam tragedy

main reason could be the thatched roof, that habbit should not be practiced for other schools ITS A REQUEST

Posted by balaji

Sub: tragedy of kumbakonam

God please bless the innocent childs who died in this terrific tragedy. Tamilnadu govt. must take seviere action about the school and staffs. ...

Posted by prince augustin

Sub: Flower Buds, in the Fire Beds

I am R.SampathKumar in Riyadh - Saudi Arabia. After hearing the news , i was not able to control my tears. 90 Flower Buds were ...

Posted by R.SampathKumar

Sub: Kumbakonam tragedy

More than the tragedy which hurt our feelings is the nature of the teachers just abondoned 100+ little flowers in the fire, to save their ...

Posted by M. Baskar


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