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Grieving residents seek action against school authorities

By R. Krishnamoorthy

KUMBAKONAM, JULY 16. The entire Kumbakonam town plunged into a pall of gloom following today's tragedy even as the grieving relatives of the young victims looked dazed. Most of the children were charred beyond recognition. The bodies were found with the burnt dresses still on. Parts of faces were missing from some bodies. Bones were sticking out of the arms of a number of children at the mortuary.

The entire one km stretch between Kasiraman Street where the school is located and the hospital at Court Road end was filled with a sea of humanity. Till late in the night the school was surrounded by dumbstruck onlookers. Many questioned the rationale behind granting recognition and government aid to a school set in such appalling condition. The public were enraged at the cramped condition of the school, which had one narrow entrance, making it difficult for the children to escape. Eye witnesses said teachers ran out first as soon as the fire engulfed the first floor, which presented the sight of the narrow stretch with six blackboards on one side.

The Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, who saw the dead bodies of the children placed in rows on either sides of the mortuary building, could not hold back her tears. She placed wreaths on the bodies of a few children amidst the wail of relatives.

About 10 bodies were still left unidentified. Some of the anxious parents were found restless unable to identify their children.

Rotary Clubs, other service organisations and private hospitals operated their ambulances to transport the bodies from the hospital to the graveyard late in the evening. The BSNL also offered free services by installing temporary telephones. Volunteers of the Indian Red Cross Society rose to the occasion by coordinating the transportation of the bodies of the victims from the hospital to the graveyard.

Outside the hospital, the public raised slogans demanding the arrest of the school authorities and the Education department officials for granting recognition to the school. They also demanded relief for the affected families.

According to the Thanjavur Collector, J. Radhakrishnan, 13 critically injured children were shifted to the Thanjavur Medical College Hospital. A special police team has been formed to arrest the school correspondent, the Collector said.

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