The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cracker stock worries experts

Chennai, Sept. 18: The large stockpiles of Vengayavedi (a powerful cracker) in households at Aathur in Salem, which is not a cracker-manufacturing hub like Sivakasi, has caused concern among forensic experts probing Monday night’s blast that killed 17.

Preliminary investigations had suggested that the explosion occurred when crackers were being loaded on a Maruti van in the presence of gas cylinders. But official sources at Salem today said it was possible that explosive substances, like gelatine sticks, were hidden underneath the crackers.

Sources said two or three persons have been held, including a relative of one of the dead, Ravi, who was assisting in loading the crackers. The lorry driver who had allegedly brought the sacks of Vengayavedi to be stored in the house at Aathur has also been arrested.

Alongside the police inquiry, the district revenue officer has also ordered a probe into the incident, sources said. The explosion had brought down at least 20 concrete houses in the vicinity.

Chief minister Jayalalithaa, however, rejected the DMK’s demand for a CBI probe.

The crackers were believed to have been brought from a place 40 km away and “illegally stored” in a rented premises at Aathur, much against the wishes of the landlord. Neighbours had also objected.

Police found 15 more bags of the deadly Vengayavedi in another house nearby. The crackers have been removed.

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