India: At least 70 children dead in school fire

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The Independent Online

A fire that may have been caused by a short circuit igniting a thatched roof killed at least 70 children and injured more than 100 others in a southern Indian school today, a local government official said.

A fire that may have been caused by a short circuit igniting a thatched roof killed at least 70 children and injured more than 100 others in a southern Indian school today, a local government official said.

"About 70 deaths are confirmed. All are young children," said J. Radhakrishnan, speaking live on television from southern Tamil Nadu state. "They have been charred beyond recognition so we cannot say how many girls and how many boys."

"We are trying our best to limit the casualties," he said, adding that the death toll may rise because 32 children were suffering from serious burns.

Most of those killed and injured were in nursery to fifth grade, or 4- to 10-year-olds, said Press Trust of India news agency.

The fire broke out at 11am at Lord Krishna Middle School in the town of Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district.

Radhakrishnan, the district's chief administrator, or collector, said preliminary indications suggested the fire was caused by a short circuit that ignited the thatched roof of an outside kitchen.

He said about 900 students study at the school but it was not known how many were inside at the time.

Radhakrishnan said he did not know why so many children were trapped, and that it would be the subject of an inquiry. "Possibly it is because it was a three-story structure in a densely populated area," he said.

Aaj Tak television showed footage of hundreds of adults outside the glass-fronted school building, many holding their heads or waving their arms, as smoke continued to rise from the smoldering building.

Kumbakonam is a temple town on the banks of Cauvery River in a fertile delta rice farming area of Tamil Nadu. It is 1,300 miles south of New Delhi, India's capital.

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