Sat, Jul 17, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Indian school fire burns to death at least 70 children


More than 70 young children were killed, some burned beyond recognition, when a fire raged through a school in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu yesterday, police said. The fire also left dozens injured.

"Parents are wailing as they try to identify their children's bodies, some of which are completely roasted," G. Srinivasan, a journalist with The Hindu newspaper, said from Kumbakonam about 2,000km south of New Delhi.

"Some people are collapsing as bodies are being moved for cremation and there is a lot of shouting going on to arrest the owner of the school," he said.

The fire started in the kitchen of the Lord Krishna school as lunch was being cooked for the 900 students, aged between six and 13, including both boys and girls.

Police earlier said Lord Krishna was a girls' school.

Television showed rescuers frantically trying to break into the upper floor to rescue trapped children.

Others battled the blaze with hoses from which water barely trickled.

Crowds of sobbing parents, some beating their chests in anguish, crowded around ambulances in thick smoke.

Witnesses said the school's narrow entrance may have prevented some of the children from escaping the flames.

Police earlier said as many as 100 had been killed, but police Deputy Inspector-General R.C. Kudawla told reporters the toll was 77.

The most senior district official said 71 died.

Dozens were injured, some horribly burned.

The fire had been extinguished and rescuers were searching the building for more dead and injured.

The fire at Kumbakonam, a dusty trading town on the banks of the Cauvery River famous for its temples, was the second major fire tragedy in the state this year.

More than 50 people were killed in an inferno at a marriage hall in January.

In 1995, at least 400 people, mainly children, died when a fire ravaged another school in northern India.

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