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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 July, 2004, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Grief turns to fury after India fire
By Sampath Kumar
BBC correspondent in Kumbakonam

A burnt-out classroom
Teachers have been accused of abandoning the pupils
In the historic temple town of Kumbakonam, people are still grieving over "Black Friday", when 90 schoolchildren perished in a devastating fire.

Crowds are still gathering in front of the three-storey school in a narrow street.

They stare vacantly at the charred lunch boxes, shoes and pencils, scattered among the debris.

One of them is Manjula. She lost her nine-year-old son.

"After the fire was put out, I saw several children clinging to the grilles on the windows," she says.

"It will not fade from my memory as long as I live."

"We are poor people, working hard for a living," says another woman, Kamalamma.

"We sent our grandson to this English medium school, in the hope he would have a better life. Now all is gone."


Duraipandi is still waiting for the return of one of his two children. His elder son is back but the younger one is missing.

Police say all the bodies have been retrieved and identified.

First we watched the roof catch fire, then the curtains
Susie Mary
"I have run from pillar to post," he says in desperation. "But no one is able to give me any clue where he is."

In the government hospital, a team of doctors from Madras are treating the survivors of the fire.

Many of them are lying on big banana leaves. They have severe burns.

Their parents flap fans to keep them cool, and try to soothe their agony.

One of the survivors is eight year old Susie Mary.

"We all screamed and were hugging each other," she tells me.

"First we watched the roof catch fire, then the curtains, books and table were all in flames.''

Susie Mary is out of danger now.


Another child says he survived by hiding under a bench.

Throughout the town, there is anger and sorrow.

Posters are plastered on walls, with messages of condolence in big black letters.

"Now the parents are orphaned," says one of them. Another just shows a huge tear drop.

On Monday, people will hold demonstrations outside schools that have thatched roofs.

Already the government has ordered the closure of more than 200 such schools.

But the people here say it is too little, too late.

And for Kumbakonam, the haunting spectre of the children's charred bodies will not fade away for years to come.

Schools closed after India fire
18 Jul 04  |  South Asia
India's claustrophobic classrooms
17 Jul 04  |  South Asia
In pictures: India school fire
17 Jul 04  |  In Pictures
Town mourns school blaze victims
17 Jul 04  |  South Asia


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