Indian authorities have ordered a judicial inquiry into an explosion and fire at a Hindu temple in Kerala that killed more than 100 people.
Nearly 400 others were injured at the Puttingal temple in Paravur when a faulty firework fell onto a large stockpile of fireworks.
A building at the temple then collapsed, causing many of the deaths.
Thousands had gathered to watch the fireworks display as part of a local new year festival.
“The incident is so grave that it is very difficult to describe in words,” he added. “People who were 200 metres away were also hurt.”
In pictures: India temple fire
The explosion happened at about 03:30 (22:00 GMT Saturday), hours after the event started in Kollam district.
There were scenes of chaos as emergency teams were slow in reaching the area and rescue teams used bulldozers to clear the area looking for survivors.
A power outage hit the complex after the first explosion, further complicating rescue efforts.
Many of the dead were charred beyond recognition and would have to be identified by DNA tests, said Kerala police chief TP Senkumar.
The temple had been denied permission on safety grounds to hold the fireworks display but it had gone ahead under pressure from the crowd, officials said.
Police are planning to take action against the temple administration and the contractors who were putting on the display.
Kerala’s government said it had ordered a judicial inquiry that would work alongside the police’s criminal investigation.
The incident happened as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in Mumbai for a seven-day tour of India and Bhutan, and Kensington Palace said the couple’s thoughts were with those assisting victims.
Kerala is in the middle of an election for a new state assembly, but political parties have called off campaigning as a mark of respect for the victims.
Religious festivals incidents in India
- January 2005: Up to 300 people die in a stampede during a Hindu pilgrimage to the remote Mandhar Devi temple in Maharashtra state
- August 2008: At least 140 people die in a stampede at a hilltop Hindu temple in Himachal Pradesh during the Shravan Navratras festival
- September 2008: Stampede at the Chamunda Devi Hindu temple inside Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort kills more than 220
- January 2011: More than 100 die at stampede at a festival in Kerala state
- October 2013: Stampede at a Hindu festival in Madhya Pradesh kills at least 115
- July 2015: At least 27 pilgrims die in a stampede on the banks of a holy river in Andhra Pradesh at the start of the Maha Pushkaralu festival