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India trade fair fire kills more than 100 (Monday 10th April, 2006

Fire at Indian Electronics Show Kills More than 100

At least 100 people were feared dead - with authorities already confirming 45 fatalities - in a fire which swept through a consumer fair in India's northern Meerut city on Monday.

The blaze broke out at the fair being held at the Victoria Park in the city located in northern Uttar Pradesh state, some 80 kilometres north-east of New Delhi.

The fire broke out during a consumer electronics show in the dusty rural town of Meerut, about 250 miles from the city of Lucknow.

Witnesses described a horrific scene, with injured victims screaming, three enormous tents destroyed, and rescuers pulling out corpse after corpse.

"Dead bodies are strewn around, most of them are charred beyond recognition. The bodies were dumped into trucks, jeeps and ambulances and taken away from the public glare," said Prakash Arya, a witness reached at the scene on his mobile phone.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, though a local politician, Laxmikant Bajpai, told the TV station Headlines Today that it may have started when plastic sheeting hanging over an air conditioning unit caught fire.

The fire began around 5:30 p.m. and was quickly put out. Rescuers were still searching for survivors in what was left of the tent complex, which had been erected in a park in the town center.

"At this point we have 45 dead. The number may go up," said Rakesh Tomar, a Meerut police officer. K.M. Singh, the state's chief medical officer, said at least 160 injured people had been taken to local hospitals.

Thousands of people had been expected on Monday, the last day of the fair, to see washing machines, stereos and other electronic goods on display.

Trade fairs, where manufacturers and traders set up stalls to exhibit their wares to consumers and other businesses, are common in India. They are frequently held in elaborate cloth tents set up over interconnected bamboo poles and often with little regard for safety regulations.


Mass pyre at Brand India fire

The burnt exhibition grounds in Meerut on Monday, with the stalls completely destroyed. (PTI)
Lucknow, April 10: A huge fire raced through a crowded consumer fair this evening, burning alive at least 55 people who had come to buy televisions, transistors and home appliances at hefty discounts.

Police said the toll was expected to cross 100 as over a thousand people had been thronging the Brand India fair at Victoria park in Meerut when the blaze broke around 5.30 pm.

The flames, possibly sparked by a short circuit and fed by exploding gas cylinders, spread so swiftly that all three air-conditioned pandals housing some 1,000 stalls were reduced to ash in 30 minutes.

Scores of charred bodies lay grouped together in the smoking ruins with flames flickering on twisted metal structures next to them. One body lay burnt, except for a leg clad in blue jeans. Dozens lay writhing and screaming.

“In half an hour, nothing was left in the three pandals. All we could see were bodies. It looked like a makeshift morgue where bodies lay piled on each other,” said Sudhir Joshi, as he desperately looked for his sons peddling wares at the fair.

This is the first time that disaster has struck a fair in this park, where several have been held earlier. Mushrooming consumer fairs is a phenomenon that reflects the rise in purchase power as well as aspirational level in middle India.

A police official in the Meerut control room said people had got trapped as there was only one entrance and one exit to the fair ground, which were only about 5 feet wide.

“The tent was very long, extending for more than 100 metres and there was only one exit corridor, so people could come out only one by one.”

Meerut IG Narendra Bahadur Singh said it was difficult to put a figure on the toll. “All I could see was the number of women and children were higher than the men.”

A witness, Pradeep Jain, who was loitering outside the park, said all was over by the time the fire brigade arrived. People who had been lured by the 30-50 per cent discounts were left hunting for relatives by the light of torches and car headlamps as the power link had snapped.

“About 2,000 people had turned up as it was the last day of the fair. The men managed to run out, most who fell in the stampede were women and children,” he said.

The police have ruled out sabotage. “The fair was organised by a professional group (Milan Events Pvt Ltd) and some 1,000 stalls were set up. No one anticipated a fire of this kind,” R.K. Viswakarma, DIG, Meerut range, said.

The state government has ordered a high-level probe. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi have expressed concern.

India fire toll revised to 31
From correspondents in Meerut, India
April 12, 2006
OFFICIALS in a north Indian state yesterday revised the death toll in a major fire at a makeshift shopping centre to 35 from an earlier count of 51 dead.
"Earlier, we had given a rough estimate as bodies were being pushed into ambulances but some of them were breathing," RK Viswakarma, a top police officer in the city of Meerut where the incident took place, said.

"Some of them were saved by doctors. The exact tally now is 32 dead in Meerut and three people, who were injured and were taken to New Delhi, died there."

Officials in Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh state, where Meerut is located, as well as mortuary doctors in Meerut, also gave the same death toll.

However, many local people claimed many more had died.

An electrical short-circuit in a sprawling, makeshift shopping arena, covered with plastic sheets, set ablaze the compound early yesterday, trapping about 2000 people.

The special shopping centre with about 100 stalls had on display air-conditioners, computers, televisions and other home appliances.

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