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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 July, 2004, 07:19 GMT 08:19 UK
Town mourns school blaze victims
A burned-out classroom after a school fire in Kumbakonam, India
There were limited escape routes from the school's classrooms
The grief-stricken town of Kumbakonam in southern India has been holding funerals for many of the 90 children killed in a school fire on Friday.

Other victims are expected to be buried or cremated later on Saturday.

It was India's deadliest fire tragedy involving children since 1995. Police have arrested the head teacher of the Lord Krishna school, in Tamil Nadu state, on charges of negligence.

Parents broke down as their children's bodies were laid to rest.

Most of the victims were between the ages of six and 10.

"He is gone, he is gone forever," wailed Vijaya, whose eight-year-old son died of burns in hospital.

Another parent slipped to the ground in grief as his 10-year-old daughter Monica was lowered into a grave.

Across Kumbakonam, many are struggling to come to terms with the tragedy.

About 20 children are still in hospital with severe burns.

Rescue efforts were hampered by the school's narrow, steep staircase, which was the only escape route.


Police have arrested five people including the head teacher, Pulavar Palanichamy.

"They have been charged with gross negligence, leading to deaths," district administrator, J Radhakrishnan, said.

The fire is believed to have started in the kitchen and spread to the thatched roof.

Nearly 200 children were in the primary section of the school on the top floor when the blaze broke out.

The roof collapsed onto children struggling to escape the school's narrow corridors.

Rescuer killed

Police said one person who tried to rescue the children had also been killed.

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
The accident is prompting calls for higher safety standards in schools, many of which have no fire fighting equipment.

After visiting the scene, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayram called for charges against the school management and district authorities, accusing them of "criminal negligence".

She said it was illegal to have a thatched roof. All school buildings in the state would now be inspected, she added.

Correspondents say some of India's schools are in a desperately poor state, with many lacking even basic firefighting equipment.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Abdul Kalam sent their condolences to the victims' parents.

The BBC's Clarence Mitchell
"Grief is also turning to anger"

In pictures: India school fire
16 Jul 04  |  In Pictures
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16 Jul 04  |  South Asia
Media shocked over school blaze
17 Jul 04  |  South Asia
India's claustrophobic classrooms
17 Jul 04  |  South Asia

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