100 killed in massive blast at illegal explosives dump in Madhya Pradesh

PETLAWAD (Jhabua): At least 100 people, including three children, were killed and over 150 injured in a massive explosion of a deadly stockpile of gelatin rods, urea and other chemicals stored illegally inside a building at a busy bus-stand in Petlawad-Thandla highway in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, at around 8.30 am on Saturday.

The detonation ripped apart the three-storey residence-cum-commercial complex which ran a busy eatery along the state highway. There were at least 60 people inside Sethia restaurant and around 100 others inside the building and an adjoining flour mill when the blast occurred. Many of those killed were daily-wagers.

The intensity of the blast tore apart bodies that flew out of the building in a ball of fire. Vehicles parked nearby were charred to skeletal remains. It's suspected that the gelatin sticks and other chemicals were illegally stored by a local contractor, Arpan Kaswa of Petlawad, who had rented space in the building to run an agriculture product business five years ago. He and his four brothers are learnt to have fled the town.

Divisional commissioner, Sanjay Dubey, suggested criminal negligence on the part of Kaswas. "The accused businessman had a licence for using of mining explosives, but he'd stored these illegally. Five shops run by the Kaswa family in Petlawad and one in Bhendi on Ratlam highway have been sealed. They have been charged with illegally storing explosives and causing death due to negligence."

Dubey also feared the death toll could rise as several of the wounded were in a critical state. Home minister Babulal Gaur said an inquiry has been ordered into the disaster. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced Rs 2 lakh relief to the families of those killed.

Sources said the gelatin sticks were stored for drilling holes in Jhabua's rocky terrain. An expert said gelatin sticks do not explode on their own and require a detonator. It's suspected that a cylinder blast - itself triggered by a short circuit - might have caused the explosion, burning other chemicals like nitrogen-potassium and phosphorus, and blowing everything within several metres to smithereens.

The blast occurred when people were at the restaurant for their breakfast. Minutes before the explosion, survivors said, they heard a minor explosion, which they thought was an LPG cylinder burst. A few minutes later, thick smoke began billowing from the shop owned by Kaswa and the building blew up.

Police officers at Petlawad divisional headquarter said 79 of those killed had been identified and more than 100 injured are being treated at different hospitals in Indore, Ratlam and neighbouring Dahod district. Eight charred bodies have not been identified. Chief medical officer Dr Arun Sharma said autopsies had been performed on at least 60 bodies.

The Jhabua administration launched rescue operations with help of National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) and other agencies. A few social groups too lent support. Forensic expert Sudhir Sharma said initial investigations suggest the blast occurred due to a short-circuit. Whether it ignited the LPG cylinders first or the stockpile of gelatin rods and other flammable chemicals inside would be known only after a complete inquiry.

Station House officer of Petlawad police station, Kunwar Shivji Singh, was suspended for not taking action against illegal storage of explosives. The building was owned by Gangaram Rathore, who along with four of his family died in the blast.


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