World news – A single spark that turned a hundred lives upside down

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The fire started at the base of a tree, where the workers were busy with the chemical filling process of fancy « shot » crackers and spread to the rooms in no time

Published: February 13, 2021 2:35 AM |

Last updated: February 13, 2021 2:35 am

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Expressing damaged scales after the fire in the cracker production unit in Achankulam in the Virudhungar district.

VIRUDHUNAGAR: « We know that she may not be alive, but we at least need her body, » says the 63 -year-old Marikkani. His eyes fill with tears when he talks about his wife Poomari (52). Marikkani is in the Sattur Government Hospital, where some of the fire victims were taken Friday at the Sree Mariyammal Fireworks factory in Achankulam village, Virudhunagar.

Like many others, he walked from hospital to hospital in hope to find his loved one, even if the hope that he might find them alive is fading by the minute.
« We have been married 30 years and have worked in the same unit for eight years. I used to be a loader and she was a match maker. Since the match industry was mechanized, we decided to work in that industry. » he says.
It was a single spark on Friday that turned his life upside down. According to eyewitnesses, the fire started around 1:30 p.m. at the foot of a tree under which workers were filling fancy shot crackers with chemicals. It quickly spread around the factory.
Marikanni, who had just stepped out for tea, said he heard a bang from one of the unit’s 60 rooms before being hit by a piece of concrete. When he got to, a fire burned halfway through the factory and his search for Poomari began.
With at least 18 other dead and over 30 injured, rescue workers and people were transferred to government hospitals in Sattur, Sivakasi and Kovilpatti, as well as to some private hospitals in Sattur, apart from the Rajaji government hospital in Madurai. After the accident, the relatives of the victims ran from hospital to hospital looking for their loved ones.
A Rajendran waiting at the doors of the Sattur GH is stunned by the condition of the deceased. The only distinguishing feature of one of the dead women is a single bracelet. Another person must be identified by their torso, with their head and legs burned to ashes, he says.
Rajasekar, 28, is deaf. His pregnant wife Karpagavalli, 22, died when she was transferred to GRH. She was seven months pregnant and Friday was her first day at work in a year since they were married. « She insisted on going to work because she said she was bored. »

It was also the first day at work for 19-year-old nursing student Sandhya, who hoped to make enough money to complete her education Fund.

Among those who fear the worst are the relatives of Selvi and Bhagyaraj, believed to be dead and facing the unenviable task of informing the couple’s 12-year-old of their fate.

One worker who survived the blast unharmed found the apathy of officials and hospital staff angry. « We know you have a lot of work, but why can’t you cover the bodies with a piece of cloth? » he grumbles, « The government can offer solatium for the dead, and officials can file reports. But what will they do about the living? » he asks.

The CITU official Subbaraj asks the same question. « Proper inspections or action are not taken. Most workers are not provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) or insurance or welfare. They work for a daily wage, » he claims.
In this incident, he points out that the workers were working in an open space. « It’s illegal. If the officers had carried out proper inspections, this would not have happened, » he added.
Subbaraj blames the heart-wrenching chaos for relatives who followed the mishap for the lack of an adequate system of attendance in the unit and says officials do not know the exact number of victims.
Officials say the unit was rented by the owner and the renter has sublet it to several contractors.
CITU fireworks and matches union district secretary M Mahalakshmi says such mishaps lead to public demands to shut down the industry. « What are we going to do to rehabilitate the workers? What are they going to do for their food? Also, this industry offers economic value to the district, » she argues.
« The only solution is proper inspection and supervision by officials. »

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