Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh): It was around 8:30 am on this fateful Saturday in the tribal belt of Jhabua (300 km from Bhopal), when a gas cylinder exploded at a local tea stall. This blast in the Petlavad area near the New Bus stand, where a large number of labourers were milling around, was quickly followed by a much bigger explosion bringing down the adjoining building.
“Eighty-seven people are dead, and the bodies of 60 of them have been identified,” said Inspector ML Gaur of the Jhabua police control room.
The roar of the explosion was heard for kilometres.
“I heard the blasts and ran towards the spot. Dust hung over the area. Bodies were scattered all over the place. A girl was crying and she was rescued,” said a witness, Babu Lal.
Another local said the damage from the explosion at the tea stall was comparatively lesser than the severity of the destruction caused by the second blast. Eyewitnesses spoke of people tossed into the air with the force of the explosion.
The deafening blasts reduced buildings to rubble and left many bloodied and wounded. Dazed locals scrambled amongst strewn body parts to help the wounded. Some shrieked in pain while others died on the spot.
TV visuals showed the enormity of the blasts, with nearby buildings suffering extensive damage. People could be seen sifting through the rubble to extricate those who were buried.
Over 100 are injured, 20 seriously, said police.
“Post mortems of all the bodies has been completed. There are eight women and three children among the dead,” Inspector Gaur added.
Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Babulal Gaur said: “The blast took place due to gas cylinder explosion.”
Unconfirmed reports speak of gelatin sticks, or mining detonators, stored in the building as illegal mining takes place in the area.
On whether there were explosives in the building, Gaur said: “The matter needs to be probed and an order in this regard has been given.”
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan expressed grief but declined to comment on the cause for the blasts. He has ordered a probe and has stated that Chief Secretary Antony DeSa has been asked to look into the matter.
According to an Indian Express report, DGP Surendra Singh said the police were treating the incident as an accident and ruled out foul play.
Yadav also alleged that the head of the BJP’s business cell, Rajendra Kasawa stocked the explosive materials used for mining purposes in this region.
When local residents recently complained to the sub-divisional magistrate on learning about explosives being stored in the residential locality, the administration did not act, said the report by Indian Express.
Police said gelatin sticks kept in the house of one Rajendra Kumar Kaswa exploded. They maintained that the house owner had a licence but could not say whether he had permission to store them in his house.
The chief minister has also announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each to the kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to the injured.
A team of experts from Indore reached Jhabua following the blasts and the injured were rushed to hospitals in Ratlam, Indore and Jhabua. Rescue work continued till late in the evening to make sure all trapped under debris are recovered. Home Minister Babulal Gaur flew to the spot along with Chief Secretary Anthony d’ Sa and other bureaucrats.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressed his condolences, according to a statement from the Russian embassy.
(With inputs from IANS and Indian Express)