Many of those warded in hospitals were in critical condition. PM Modi, who visited the disaster-hit Puttingal Devi temple in Peravur town here, suggested that they could be flown to Mumbai or New Delhi for treatment.

Only two of the dead were women, police sources told reporters. "The tragedy is unimaginable and dreadful," a sombre PM Modi said in Thiruvananthapuram just before taking a flight to Delhi.

He announced Rs.2 lakh as compensation to families of each of the dead. Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy announced a compensation of Rs.10 lakh to families of the dead, Rs.2 lakh each to the seriously injured and Rs.50,000 to those with minor injuries.

He also ordered a judicial probe and a simultaneous investigation by the Crime Branch of Kerala Police to determine how the fireworks show ended up raining death.

Dazed survivors said the disaster happened when stacks of explosives stored in a building a little away from the 100-year-old temple exploded, apparently after a spark from a firecracker landed on its roof.

The incident occurred just after 3 am amid a dazzling and deafening fireworks display even after the local authorities had declined permission for it.

The celebrations had begun the previous night. K Jayakumar, a travel agent, explained how the disaster struck. "A fireball engulfed the entire area right before my eyes," he told the media.

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