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Fire at a wedding

Print edition : Feb 13, 2004 T+T-

A fire in a marriage hall in the temple town of Srirangam leaves 57 people dead.

in Tiruchi

IT turned out to be a black Friday for Srirangam, in Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu, on January 23 when a horrific blaze in a marriage hall left 57 persons dead and 50 injured. The accident happened when a thatched structure on the roof of a marriage hall was reduced to ashes, with many people trapped under it, during a wedding ceremony.

The bridegroom, 23 women and four children were among the dead. The bride, who was injured, is yet to recover from the trauma. The trail of the tragedy seemed to be unending with many of the injured succumbing to their injuries in the hospitals.

About 250 guests had gathered on the partially enclosed space on the roof of Padmapriya Marriage Hall as the wedding rituals were under way. The `muhurtham' (auspicious time) was at around 9-15 a.m. The hastily put-up thatched structure served as a make-shift venue for the wedding as the families of the bride and the groom felt that the main hall downstairs was not spacious enough for the anticipated turnout of guests.

Eyewitnesses said the fire was first noticed on the thatched roof. Fed by the thatch, plastic chairs and clothing materials, the fire engulfed the entire hall within minutes. The blaze snuffed out on the spot the lives of at least 30 persons, including the bridegroom, R. Gururajan (42), employed with the New India Assurance Company. Gururajan himself had made a valiant bid to rescue his grandfather. He lost his life in the process. The bride, H. Jayasri (32), a school teacher, escaped with injuries but lost her parents and a sister.

With the thatched roof caving in, many were immobilised and charred to death in their seats. The raging fire triggered a stampede as panic-stricken guests attempted to flee through a narrow staircase in a corner of the hall. The majority of the victims were elderly people and children. Some people managed to escape by jumping out of the windows. Fire and Rescue Service personnel, the police and local residents rushed to the spot and organised a rescue operation. They broke open the grills of the hall's front windows to save several lives.

Many among the injured suffered third degree burns. The injured were admitted to the K.A.P. Viswanatham Government Medical College Hospital, the Srirangam Government Hospital and other private hospitals in the city. Many of the charred bodies could be identified only with the help of the jewellery worn by the deceased.

After preliminary inquiries, the police attributed the fire to a videographer's equipment. The Inspector-General of Police, Central Zone, S. George, told the media that the decorative materials hung on the low thatched roof had most probably caught fire owing to the intense heat generated by the video flashgun. He also pointed out that temporary power lines were drawn from downstairs in a shoddy manner. Besides, the pandal was an unauthorised structure.

The police have seized the videocassette from the videographer who recorded the marriage. Four persons - hall manager S. Sadagopan, video light boy R. Balaji, electrician K. Murugesan, and pandal contractor M. Selvam - have been taken into custody. The police have booked a case under Section 304A (criminal negligence). An officer of the rank of Additional Superintendent of Police has been deputed to conduct an inquiry.

Top officials including the Additional Director-General of Police, S.V. Venkatakrishnan, and the Director, Fire and Rescue Service, S.K. Dogra, visited the accident spot. Dogra indicated that his department would conduct a survey of all marriage halls in the State to ensure that they observed the minimum safety standards.

Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced a cash relief of Rs.50,000 each to the families of the dead, from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund. The seriously injured were sanctioned Rs.15,000 each and those who suffered minor injuries Rs.6,000 each.

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