MEERUT, India – The death toll from a devastating blaze at a trade fair in northern India rose Tuesday to 52, as angry crowds demanded that those responsible for the fire be brought to justice.
At least 200 people were injured by the flames or trampled Monday as the fire swept through giant exhibition tents at a consumer electronics show in the town of Meerut, about 250 miles from Lucknow, the capital of the Uttar Pradesh state.
Angry crowds gathered at the scene of the inferno Tuesday, blocking a vehicle carrying a local official to demand increased compensation for the family members of those killed and the injured, and for the government to track down those responsible for the blaze.
Police had issued arrest warrants for the organizers of the fair, but they had disappeared, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, though a local politician, Laxmikant Bajpai, told the TV station Headlines Today that it may have started when plastic sheeting hanging over an air conditioning unit caught fire.
Other officials said the fire may have been sparked by a short circuit.
Several people died overnight from their wounds, bringing the death toll up to 52, said R.M. Srivastava, a senior official in the state Home Ministry.
The state government has announced compensation of $4,500 per person killed and up to $1,120 for each person injured.
Witnesses described a horrific scene, with screaming injured people, three enormous tents destroyed, and rescuers pulling out corpse after corpse. Authorities said most of the corpses were found near the exits.
"Apparently some people were knocked down and crushed in the stampede as they rushed to get out of the inferno," said Rajiv Sabharwal, senior police superintendent for the town.
While police scoured the ruins, desperate relatives went from hospital to hospital, looking for missing relatives. Television footage showed dozens of people also standing outside the mortuary holding pictures of friends and relatives.
Trade fairs, where manufacturers and traders set up stalls to exhibit their wares to consumers and other businesses, are common in India. They are normally held in elaborate cloth tents set up over interconnected bamboo poles — and often with little regard for safety regulations.