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Fire at fireworks factory chars 31

- Licence suspended yesterday: Sources

Chennai, Sept. 5: A huge fire set off multiple explosions as it swept through a Tamil Nadu fireworks factory today, killing at least 31 people and leaving dozens with serious burns and shrapnel injuries.

Unofficial sources put the toll at 52. The toll could go up as over 60 people suffered first-degree burns.

Most victims were workers of Om Shakti Fireworks in Sivakasi in Virudhunagar district, some 500km from Chennai. The factory licence was suspended only yesterday because of “major violations”, official sources said.

(Top) The ruins of the buildings; relatives of victims cry outside the hospital in Madurai on Wednesday. (PTI)

The fire started around noon in one of the 40 sheds where fancy crackers or combination fireworks were being packed. As the stored fireworks began exploding, it triggered fire in the nearby sheds.

Of the 300 labourers working in the factory, 20 died almost instantly. Others stumbled out with critical burn injuries and died soon after. Many workers managed to rush out after hearing the serial explosions.

Some workers got injured as they watched helplessly, standing next to a godown storing raw material. The godown, which was about 100 metres from the cluster of sheds, exploded suddenly.

According to regulations, the sheds in a fireworks factory must have cement walls and asbestos roofs and be located at least five metres from each other. Only four workers can work in a shed but often factories employ more to complete job orders. Godowns have to be located at least 100 metres from the manufacturing area.

Many of the injured have been admitted to the local government hospital. Others were taken to Madurai general hospital 70km away.

Although Sivakasi is the main hub for the fireworks and match industries, the local hospital got a burns ward only recently.

Najmal Huda, the Virudhunagar superintendent of police, said at least 30 fire tenders were rushed in from nearby districts but could not enter the premises for almost two hours as the explosions would not stop.

State information minister Rajenthra Balaji, who hails from Virudhunagar, said safety norms in all factories would be reviewed.

There are over 100 fireworks factories in Sivakasi and employees are taken through fire drills every fortnight, said M. Mohan, the owner of Sony Fireworks.

“The increasing demand for fancy fireworks that shoot into the air and explode in various patterns has seen many manufacturers investing money and labour,” he said.

“But these fireworks are designed and assembled by trial and error, increasing the risk of accidents. Our association has given guidelines to the factories for safe manufacture of fireworks.”