| Firemen inspect debris left by the blast.
Ahmedabad, Aug. 3: Thirty-three people, all diamond workers, were killed and 40 injured in an explosion in a three-storey building the diamond hub of Surat early this morning.
The city’s Civil Hospital confirmed the deaths of 33, five of whom could not be identified. Those killed, including four women and three children, were aged between 18 and 30. The toll could go up as some of the injured were said to be critical.
Surat police commissioner B.K. Gupta said preliminary investigation showed a gas cylinder triggered the explosion. In Varachha, The authorities ruled out sabotage and terrorism.
The explosion was so strong that two adjacent low-rise buildings collapsed, trapping people under the debris.
Chief minister Narendra Modi announced an ex gratia of Rs 50,000 to the kin of the victims. Both the chief minister and the leader of Opposition Amarsinh Chaudhary will visit Surat tomorrow.
Union minister Kashiram Rana, who is from Surat, visited the spot today.
Official sources said the blast was probably spurred by the bursting of a gas cylinder stored in the ground floor of the building, which housed an industrial unit that made equipment for diamond cutting and polishing. The unit is suspected to have been using some chemical.
Experts from the Forensic Science Laboratory in Ahmedabad have rushed to the south Gujarat city to find the cause. They are expected to submit a report tomorrow, Gupta said.
Police and fire brigade personnel started rescue operations around 4.30 am but were hampered by the encroachments in the narrow lane. So hutments on the way to the collapsed building called Mahadev Society were pulled down.
Nearby residents said the blast, so loud it could be heard almost 4 km away, was followed by a series of explosions.
The building was made in 1973 by the Gujarat State Finance Corporation for textile workers as a ground-plus-first floor structure. It was subsequently sold to a builder, who is said to have illegally raised the building to its present height and encroached 15 feet on to the road.
The first floor was a dining hall and diamond workers, mostly from Saurashtra, lived on the second and third. Several gas cylinders were stored in the building for a powerful furnace or a boiler that is believed to have been operational on the ground floor.