At least 80 children have died in a school fire in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, authorities say.
Rescuers had found it hard to get to the school's top floor (Photo: Senthil Kumar)
More than 100 were injured, with many taken to hospital with serious burns.
The school head teacher was arrested after the tragedy, which correspondents said again raised questions of school safety in India.
Small, charred corpses were piled on each other in a school room. "You will lose your mind if you see the bodies," said a local woman.
There were reported to be 200 children in the primary section of the Lord Krishna school in Kumbakonam, 300km (185 miles) south-west of state capital Madras, when the blaze broke out.
Some reports said the fire started in a kitchen at about 1100 local time (0530 GMT) and quickly spread to the thatched roof of the school's classrooms.
The roof collapsed onto children who were struggling to escape the school's narrow corridors.
Reports said some children died in the stampede.
Most of the victims were said to be girls, although some bodies were unidentifiable. There were some reports that some teachers may have been among the dead.
District administrator J Radhakrishnan said the fire was put out within two hours.
The scene was one of devastation.
The everyday items of school life were strewn around in the panic, with rubber shoes lying among lunch boxes, schoolbags and toppled chairs.
Kumbakonam's state-run hospital was overwhelmed.
"There is absolute chaos in the hospital. Parents are rushing in, trying to locate their children," Dr P Kumar told BBC News Online from the casualty ward.
"Many of them are breaking down and wailing especially as many of the bodies are burned beyond recognition."
Others collapsed as they heard the names of the dead read out over the hospital microphone.
Officials were reported to be discussing sending some survivors to Madras for treatment, as the local facilities could not cope with so many burns victims.
In the hours after the tragedy, police arrested the head of the school, Pulavar Palanichamy.
As the cause of the fire was being investigated, correspondents recalled the desperately poor state of some Indian schools.
Many are said to lack even basic firefighting equipment.
As the blaze took hold, some rescuers tried frantically to reach the top floor. Others used hoses to tackle the flames but their efforts were hampered as the water supply ran dry.
A senior fire department official told the AP news agency that local people "saved at least 80 children from the third floor before the roof came down".
Some of the rescuers tried to smash
holes in the school's walls to get to the children.
After visiting the scene Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayram called for charges against the school management and district authorities, accusing them of
INDIAN FIRE DISASTERS
Feb 2004: Six die in a fire at India's Sriharikota space centre on an island off Andhra Pradesh state
Jan 2004: A fire at a wedding hall in Tamil Nadu state kills 46
May 2003: A blaze on an express train in India's Punjab state kills 38
May 2003: A factory fire in Ludhiana, in Punjab state, kills 12
Nov 2002: A passenger bus catches fire in Madhya Pradesh, killing 21
Dec 1995: About 400 die in a school fire in Haryana state
She said it was illegal to have a thatched roof, and that all school buildings in the state would be inspected.
India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Abdul Kalam sent their
condolences to the victims' parents.
The Pope's spokesman said he was "very
shocked" at the tragedy.
Kumbakonam is a temple town on the banks of the Cauvery river in a fertile rice-growing delta.
The fire is the second major blaze in Tamil Nadu this year.
At least 46 people were killed in an inferno that swept a marriage hall in the temple town of Srirangam in January.
After a public outcry, authorities ordered the installation of proper fire safety systems in public buildings, an order which observers say has yet to be fully implemented.