CHANDIGARH —At least 23 people have died and dozens are feared trapped after a massive explosion today at a firecracker factory running illegally in a residential area in Punjab’s Gurdaspur.
The incident took place around 3:45 pm at the factory located near Hansali drain in Batala. The impact of the explosion destroyed the factory and nearby buildings were damaged as well.
Hundreds of students of St Francis school had a miraculous escape as the blast took place around 15 minutes after the full break.
While speaking to HuffPost India, Inspector General (Border Range) SPS Parmar said that the incident occurred as the workers inside were grinding potassium to fill in the crackers ahead of Diwali.
“At the time of incident, there were 14 workers and all of them died including six from the vicinity. One of the building owner whose identity is yet to be established too died in the explosion, said Parmar.
He added that an enquiry has been ordered to ascertain as to how a crackers manufacturing factory was running inside a residential area near a school.
According to Aanchal Aggarwal, an Agra based dealer of Potassium Nitrate, the chemical alone is not explosive. It acquires explosiveness after coming in contact with carbon or excessive heat.
“In such explosions, the blast usually occurs due to the negligence of the workers who either smoke on the site or else some sparking from the grinding machine triggers the blast,” said Aggarwal.
Not the First Time
According to The Tribune, a similar blast occurred on January 21, 2017, which had ripped apart several shops in the same area, left one person dead and three injured.
At that time the administration had ordered a magisterial probe. However, the findings of that inquiry are not known to anybody among administration officials.
The blasts occurred a day ahead of the 532nd birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev. Festivities are held in the city every year and this time too they were on in full swing when residents heard two loud blasts and a series of low-decibel level ones.
Devotees from nearby cities were slowly converging on the city even as news of the tragedy spread like wildfire.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said rescue operations are underway with the District Collector and the Senior Superintendent of Police heading the relief efforts.
Punjab Cabinet Minsiter Sukhjinder Randhawa is on the spot and has announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakhs for the next of kin of those who died in the blast and Rs 50,000 and Rs 25,000 each for the critically injured and others who sustained minor injuries during the blast.
Teams of the National Disaster Response Force or NDRF and the State Disaster Response Force or SDRF are aiding rescue operations. Senior police and district administration are also present at the spot.
President Ram Nath Kovind also offered condolences to bereaved families impacted by this tragedy.
The injured were sent to various hospitals and the condition of the majority of them was stated to be critical.
Bollywood actor and Gurdaspur MP Sunny Deol was not in the constituency but offered his condolences on Twitter. Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh and Punjab Congress President Sunil Jakhar are expected to visit the explosion site on Thursday.