Local authorities have suspected that around 15 people may have been killed in a dynamite blast at a railway crusher site in Hunasodu village of Shivamogga last night.
Though the authorities did not clear the exact death toll increasing, but Shivamogga Deputy Commissioner K B Shivakumar said on Friday morning, "There are rumours that at least 10 to 15 people have died. Let the police complete their investigation."
The explosion that occurred around 10.20 pm on late Thursday night was so loud that mild tremors were felt in Shivamogga as well as surrounding areas. Soon, Manoj Rajan, director at the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC) had announced that there was no seismic quake reported in the area.
"Data from the nearby seismic stations at Udupi and Mangaluru have been collected and there was no seismic activity recorded. Also, information was sought from the National Centre for Seismology, New Delhi wherein no seismic activity was reported by them too," the statement read.
"The reason might be that the activity was felt from a very shallow depth, possibly less than 5km and also the magnitude on the Richter scale was less than 1.0, so it wasn't recorded by any seismometer," Rajan added.
Videos on social media showed how residents of the areas surrounding rushed out of their houses fearing it was an earthquake, as window panes shattered and some roads even witnessed cracks due to the impact of the blast.
Police detain quarry owners
Following a high-level probe in to the matter, the city police has arrested stone crusher owner Sudhakar and his business partner Gandhada Maneya Narashima in connection with the blast at the crusher site.
According to reports, the duo had taken the land on lease from owner Avinash Kulkarni to mine stones a few years ago. Police said that the duo were history-sheeters slapped with criminal charges in various police stations in the district while Kulkarni is absconding and a search is currently underway to locate him.
At present, the police has cordoned the area. A bomb squad and a forensic expert team from Bengaluru have reached the spot to collect the evidence of the blast.
"At the outset, it seems a lot of quantity of dynamite has exploded there and there has been some negligence by the quarry owner and the operators. The probe is on," Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai told ANI.
Responding to reports that some migrant labourers from Bihar were among those killed, Sushil Kumar Modi, MP Rajya Sabha and former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar said, "I talked to HM Karnataka Basavraj Bommai regarding 6 death in Shimoga dynamite blast.Till now only 1 body identified which is from AP.Till now other bodies has not been identified.Very sad incident. RIP."
Truck carrying huge quantities of explosives
Suspecting it to be an incident of illegal mining, the police said that explosives, especially gelatin sticks, used for blasting stones at a quarrying site, were being carried in a truck nearly 30 minutes before the blast that detonated near the quarry in Hunasodu and led to the massive explosion.
"The truck was blown into pieces. Some of the parts have flown away around 0.5 km from the blast site," Shivamogga Rural Police Inspector Sanjeev Kumar said, adding that the exact reason is yet to be determined. The police suspect that the two contractors may not have had proper licence to carry out the quarrying operations.
"We have reason to believe that Narasimha and Sudhakar did not have necessary permissions to carry out the mining operations and did not have the license to procure explosives," the investigating officer said. The officer added that they are investigating where the illegal explosives were procured from.
Compensation to victims' families
Bodies of the deceased have been sent to McGANN Teaching District Hospital in Shivamogga for post mortem. Authorities could not visit the blast site as there is no clarity over the power of explosives or about any remnants that could explode anytime further.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa has promised compensation to the tune of Rs 5 lakh each of the families of the victims.
"We have come to know that illegal mining activities were taking place. Action will be taken against those responsible for the incident and also if we find that officials were negligent. There are allegations that some officials knew about the illegal mining but did not take action. If this is true, action will be taken against everyone involved in wrongdoing. My government will also look into stopping the illegal mining activities across the state. I will go to Shivamogga tomorrow (Saturday) and conduct an inspection myself," he said.