NEW DELHI – At least 89 people were killed at a restaurant in central India on Saturday when a cooking gas cylinder exploded and triggered a second blast of mine detonators stored illegally nearby, police said.
The restaurant, located next to the main bus station in the town of Petlawad in Madhya Pradesh state, was crowded with people having breakfast when the blasts occurred.
The building where the restaurant was located and an adjacent building were destroyed in the explosions, and motorbikes outside the restaurant were flattened, said Mewa Lal Gond, a police inspector in the mining district of Jhabua, where Petlawad is located.
Rescue workers extricated 89 bodies from under a huge heap of rubble, Gond said.
Arun Sharma, a state health official, said doctors at a government hospital in the nearby district town of Jhabua conducted autopsies of 60 victims. The bodies were then handed over to the victims’ families.
Most of those killed in the explosions were poor laborers. Their families were likely to cremate the bodies later Saturday.
About 100 other people were injured in the blasts and were taken to hospitals, Gond said.
A local woman said she heard a loud noise at around 8:30 a.m. “I thought it was a gas cylinder that had burst, so I rushed there to see what had happened,” Jaya Rathore, a middle-aged woman, said at a hospital in nearby Ratlam where she had come to check on some relatives who were injured in the explosions.
Residents were evacuated from several adjoining buildings that were damaged in the blasts, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media.
Police struggled to keep hundreds of onlookers and people looking for their relatives away from the site of the explosions, he said. The crowds hampered the movement of ambulances and other emergency vehicles, and officers had to push them back to allow a bulldozer to reach the restaurant.
Local police officer Kamlesh Bamaniya said early Saturday evening that the rescue operation had ended and that there were no more bodies under the rubble.
Bamaniya said a local contractor, Rajendra Kashawa, had been given a license to purchase detonators for his business of digging wells but had stored the detonators illegally in a room adjacent to the restaurant.
Kashawa was killed in the blasts and several of his family members were missing, Bamaniya said.
The explosive materials are used by miners for blasting operations or for digging wells.
Mine operators are supposed to follow guidelines on the safe storage of detonators and other explosive materials but are often lax, and the district authorities rarely act against them, Bamaniya said.
There are several manganese and bauxite mines in Jhabua district, and many mine workers are hired on contract from Petlawad and nearby areas.
Petlawad is about 590 miles south of New Delhi.