(Eds: Incorporating fresh inputs)
Balasore/Bhubaneswar, Oct 18 (PTI) At least six people were killed and nine seriously injured in an explosion at an illegal firecracker factory in Odisha's Balasore district this evening, a day ahead of Diwali.
It is apprehended that the number of casualties could go up as people are likely to be trapped under the debris of the house, and rescue work is being hampered by rains triggered by a marked low pressure in the Bay of Bengal.
Balasore district collector Pramod Kumar Das said a huge explosion took place at around 4 PM when firecrackers were being made in a house at Bahabalpur, around 12 km from here. Six persons, whose bodies have been found, died on the spot.
"The crackers were being made in an unauthorised manner without any legal license," Das said.
Expressing concern over the incident, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced Rs two lakh each as ex-gratia for the families of those killed in the explosion.
He also said Rs 50,000 would be given as assistance for those who suffered critical injuries and free medical treatment of all the injured persons, an official in the CMO said.
Terming the incident as unfortunate, Patnaik gave direction for stern action against those responsible for the explosion, he said.
Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan also conveyed his sympathies for the bereaved families and wished for the speedy recovery of the injured.
Seven of the nine who sustained injuries in the blast have been transferred to the S C B Medical College Hospital in Cuttack. The other two are being treated at the district headquarters hospital, Das said.
Locals said the the impact of the explosion was so severe that the structure where the firecrackers were being made was blown up and suffered extensive damage.
Most of the bodies were highly mutilated and difficult to recognise, they said, adding that the owner of the firecracker unit also sold them from the premises.
Das, superintendent of police and other senior officials were at the site and supervising the rescue operation.
Five fire tenders were pressed into service to extinguish the blaze and rescue the victims, while over a dozen ambulances rushed to the site to shift the injured to the hospital.
Police said the exact cause of the incident would be ascertained after investigation.
Meanwhile, two people were killed in fire-related incidents in cracker outlets in Rourkela and Pipili area in Puri district, police said.