11 killed in blast and blaze at firecrackers factory in MP's Harda town; one held

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Harda/Bhopal, Feb 6 (PTI) An explosion and subsequent blaze at a firecrackers factory in Madhya Pradesh's Harda town killed 11 people and left 174 others injured on Tuesday, officials said.

A person has been detained in connection with the incident, a senior official said.

The incident occurred in the Bairagarh locality on Magardha Road, on the outskirts of Harda town, approximately 150km from the state capital, Bhopal, prompting the state government to seek Army's helicopters for evacuation.

"So far, 174 people have been rescued from the incident site -- 34 were referred to Bhopal and Hoshangabad, while 140 were undergoing treatment in district hospital. One death has been reported from among the people who were referred, and 10 deaths have been reported from the district hospital," Narmadapuram Commissioner Pawan Sharma told reporters.

"The fire has been doused, and debris is being removed from the site. Investigation into the matter is underway, but currently, the rescue mission is our priority," he added.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mohan Yadav visited Hamidia Hospital in Bhopal to meet the injured persons.

"Twelve injured were brought here, one of them is no more. I have met the injured persons and the government is making all the necessary arrangements for them. Eleven people have died in the incident and rescue operation is still underway," Yadav told reporters.

"We have evacuated everyone from the site. The FSL team is here to investigate; JCBs are working to remove debris, and a rescue mission is underway. We have called in additional machines also as the work will continue overnight. One person has been detained and an FIR registered," Inspector General (IG), Narmadapuram, Irshad Wali said.

The cause of the blast was not yet known, a senior official earlier said.

The Madhya Pradesh government constituted a three-member committee to be headed by Additional Chief Secretary (Home) to conduct a detailed probe into the explosion at the cracker unit. The other members of the high-powered committee are -- Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Intelligence, Jaideep Prasad and Public Works Department (PWD) Secretary RK Mehra.

The panel is also mandated to fix the responsibility of those officials who were supposed to prevent such incidents.

Chief Minister Yadav immediately convened a meeting and announced plans to engage the Army for helicopter support in evacuation.

The sound of the explosion was heard 25 kilometres away and eyewitnesses said body parts were scattered at a distance from the site and vehicles on a nearby road were hit by splinters.

A factory worker's eight-year-old son was unaccounted for after the blast.

"The explosion occurred even as my son Ganesh delivered tiffin to me. He ran ahead of me, but I have not been able to find him so far," the worker, identified only as Raju, said in an emotionally choked voice.

An aerial image shot from the helicopter carrying state Cabinet Minister Rao Uday Pratap Singh to Harda showed the ill-fated factory building being reduced to rubble.

Videos circulating on social media captured the intensity of the fire and chaotic scenes as people ran for safety. The incident, captured in viral videos, depicted a massive fire with intermittent blasts at the site.

Condolences poured in from across the country led by President Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"The news of the death of many people due to fire in Harda, Madhya Pradesh, is extremely sad. I express my deepest condolences to the bereaved families and pray for the speedy recovery of those injured," Murmu said in a post on X in Hindi.

Prime Minister Modi, while announcing an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the next of the kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to the injured, said he was distressed by the loss of lives.

"Condolences to all those who have lost their loved ones. May those injured recover at the earliest. The local administration is assisting all those affected," Prime Minister's Office posted on X.

Meanwhile, efforts were underway to ascertain the exact number of people feared to be trapped in and around the factory.

Additionally, the state government announced a financial assistance of Rs 4 lakh each to the families of the deceased and said it will bear the entire cost of treatment of the injured individuals.

Responding to the tragedy, Chief Minister Yadav directed senior minister Uday Pratap Singh, Additional Chief Secretary Ajit Kesari and Director General (Home Guards) Arvind Kumar to travel to Harda by helicopter to take stock of the situation and oversee relief and rescue operation.

Burn units in hospitals in Indore, Bhopal, and AIIMS-Bhopal were instructed to make necessary arrangements for any emergencies. Fire brigades from Indore and Bhopal were dispatched to combat the inferno.

A report from Indore said four injured women were admitted to the government-run MY Hospital in the city, a health official said.

Meanwhile, Congress leader and former chief minister Kamal Nath demanded a thorough probe into the tragedy and stern action against those responsible for it.

State Congress president Jitu Patwari constituted a two-member party-level committee comprising former ministers PC Sharma and Ramu Tekam to probe the incident. PTI MAS ADU HWP COR GK SKL RSY