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87 school kids burnt to death in TN
Arup Chanda
Tribune News Service

  • Fire in school kitchen due to short circuit
  • Many children die of suffocation, shock
  • Building had no proper ventilation, exit points
  • School staff escape to safety
  • Principal arrested
  • President, PM express shock
  • Union Minister Dayanadhi Maran to coordinate relief

Kumbakonam, July 16
At least 87 children were killed in a devastating fire in a school today in this small Tamil Nadu town, 400 km from Chennai, while 32 admitted to hospital with severe burn injuries.

All were students of lower classes in Lord Krishna Higher Secondary School, a private school located in the parliamentary constituency of Union Minister of State for Petroleum, Mani Shankar Aiyer.

According to the police, the bodies of 26 boys and 38 girls had been identified while the remaining ones were charred beyond recognition.

Thanjavur district officials said the fire broke out in the school’s kitchen around 10.30 a.m. because of a short circuit and spread to a thatched roof above the top floor, housing classes I to V.

Experts examine the debris of classrooms
Experts examine the debris of classrooms after a fire at Lord Krishna Higher Secondary School in Kumbakonam, 400 km southwest of Chennai, on Friday. — Reuters photo

There were 900 children in the school building located on Kasiram Road in this medieval temple town when the fire broke out. By the time, fire engines extinguished the fire, many children had died.

The primary to high-school classes were conducted in the three-storeyed building. Though it was a girls’ school, boys were also admitted to the lower classes.

The primary classes were on the third floor. It is believed that small children could not run to safety in time leading to such a high death toll as the blazing thatched roof collapsed.

Hundreds of children who were in their classes scrambled for safety through a narrow stairway. The staircase was said to be too narrow for the students most of whom perished in the inferno.

While some died of suffocation many died out of sheer shock and some were crushed in the stampede in the cramped space. Most bodies were charred beyond recognition.

Surprisingly, none of the teachers or school staff died in such a major accident as they quickly escaped.

The police has arrested the principal of the school.

The Tamil Nadu government has suspended four Education Department officials, including the Chief Education Officer of the district, besides cancelling the licence of the private school.

Thanjavur District Collector J. Radhakrishnan said fire-fighters pulled out 77 bodies from the smouldering ruins. The victims were all in the 6-11 age group.

A majority of the 35 children admitted to the government hospital with 70 to 80 per cent burn injuries are in a critical state. The hospital staff are finding it hard to cope with the emergency as it is not equipped to handle such a large number of burnt cases. The district administration has sought help from doctors in neighbouring areas.

As the news spread, a large crowd, including the parents of children, gathered outside the school building and watched in horror as charred bodies were brought out by the firefighters and dumped in vans one above another.

Many of them could be seen screaming and crying. Tension ran high as local residents complained about the building not having proper ventilation and exit points.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa immediately flew in here by a helicopter. An inquiry has been ordered into the incident. She said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and BJP leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had called her to express grief.

DMK leader M. Karunanidhi mourned the deaths and announced compensation for the families of the victims and those injured from the party’s trust fund. While Dr Manmohan Singh has asked Union Minister for IT, Dayanidhi Maran, to coordinate relief and other measures, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyer has also rushed to the spot. Mr Aiyer said he did not believe that the mid-day meal scheme in Tamil Nadu schools which necessitate kitchens there had anything to do with the fire.

In Tamil Nadu, this is the second major fire mishap this year. In January a fire in a marriage hall led to the death of 50 persons, including the bridegroom, at Srirangam near Tiruchirappalli.

For Kumbakonam, this is the biggest mishap since 1992 when more than 60 persons were drowned during the “Mahamakam” festival held once in 12 years.

NEW DELHI: The President, Prime Minister and both Houses of Parliament on Friday expressed shock and grief over the death of schoolchildren in Kumbakonam.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in a letter to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa said: “I am saddened to learn about the tragic incident in Kumbakonam today in which numerous young lives were lost in a fire in a school.”

“Kindly convey my condolences to the parents of the young students whose lives have been so tragically lost. I am sure that the state government is making all efforts to extend help to the families of the deceased and injured,” he said.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh called on the state Chief Minister to express his condolences to the bereaved families.

He asked Union Communication and Information Technology Minister Dayanidhi Maran to visit the site of the tragedy.

Both Houses of Parliament also mourned the death of schoolchildren.

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