Kochi: The death toll in the massive explosion at an illegal firecracker storage in Tripunithura touched two on Monday evening. The deceased are Thiruvananthapuram native Vishnu (27) and Divakaran (55).
While Vishnu succumbed to burn injuries soon after the tragedy, the other man was declared dead at a government medical College here in the evening. The mishap happened when crackers were brought to be stored at the warehouse for an ongoing festival at a local temple. Nearly 23 people including women and children, sustained injuries in the blast, police said.
The Hill Palace police registered a case against five persons, including three officials of the shrine management over the incident.
The State Human Rights Commission registered a case on its own into the firecracker mishap incident based on media reports. The panel directed the Ernakulam district collector and city police commissioner to probe the incident and submit a report within 15 days.
While Sajeesh Kumar, Rajesh and Sathyan, who are the president, secretary and treasurer of the Puthiyakavu Devi Temple respectively, were arraigned as the prime accused, Adarsh, the firecracker contractor, was listed as the fourth accused in the case. The police have not yet identified the fifth accused.
Multiple sections of the IPC including 307 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) were slapped against the accused, a senior police officer told PTI.
"Four persons have been taken into custody so far. Of them, two are temple officials and the others are employees of the firecracker contractor. Their interrogation is going on," he said.
Police have reportedly recorded the arrest of Piravam native Vinod (42), Vineeth (27) from Vembayam, Tripunithura natives Satheesan and Sasikumar in connection with the case.
As per the police FIR, the firecrackers and the gunpowder were illegally stored in a shed by the contractor as per the instruction of the temple officials. However, police haven't yet given any exact reason for the sudden explosion.
Meanwhile, revenue officials visited the explosion site and houses in the locality to take stock of the loss of property. Forensic experts also examined the place in search of scientific evidence to ascertain the exact cause of the blast.
Health department sources said the condition of four injured persons, admitted to the Kalamassery Medical College here, is serious.
The first deceased person was identified as Vishnu hailing from Thiruvananthapuram who was suspected to have driven the vehicle which had loaded the firecrackers, authorities said. The other details of 55-year-old Divakaran, who died in the evening, were not immediately known, they said.
Around 25 houses and some shops in the vicinity were severely damaged, while two vehicles were completely charred due to the explosion.
Though the exact cause of the blast is yet to be ascertained, fire and rescue personnel who rushed to spot suspect the possible reason to be the simultaneous explosion of a huge cache of firecrackers brought to the warehouse.
Earlier in the day, a senior Fire and Rescue Department official confirmed that it was a massive blast, tremors of which were felt several km away. He said the tremors were felt even at the local fire station and they proceeded to the spot alarmed by the huge sound of the explosion. Though the blaze was soon brought under control, it had already caused heavy damage in the vicinity, the officer said.
"We had no clue that a firecracker warehouse was being operated in this thickly populated area. Those who operated it did not seek any permission from us," the Assistant Station Officer told the media.
Making it clear that the exact cause of the explosion was yet to be known, he said they were relying on the information provided by the local people who said that the mishap happened when firecrackers were unloaded to the warehouse from a vehicle.
"Local people said the warehouse was being operated in the area for some time," the officer added.
Meanwhile, residents are yet to recover from the impact of the unexpected massive explosion which shook the area.
The roofs of many two-storey buildings in the locality were found to be severely damaged. While doors and windows of many houses were blown off from the wall by the impact of the explosion, cars parked in porticos were destroyed after bricks and tiles fell upon them.
Even tall trees could be seen completely charred due to the fire with remnants of the blast spotted several metres away.
"We have lost everything...My house is completely damaged. There are no doors and windows...how can we stay here?" a shocked woman in the locality said.
An elderly man was seen sharing the happiness of not losing his life, while a teenage boy could be seen shivering under the impact of the huge blast.
Authorities said an investigation was launched into the illegal storage of such a huge cache of firecrackers in a thickly populated residential area.