At least 23 people were killed and 27 injured in a blast at a firecracker factory in Batala in Gurdaspur district of Punjab on Wednesday, PTI reported. The police said several people were feared trapped under the debris, even as rescue operations were underway.

The explosion took place around 4 pm in the factory, situated in a three-storey building in the residential area, Inspector General (Border Range) SPS Parmar told the news agency. The blast also damaged a few nearby buildings and parked vehicles.

“A total of 23 people have died in the blast,” Batala Senior Medical Officer Sanjiv Bhalla said.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident to ascertain the exact cause of the fire. The additional deputy commissioner (Batala) has been asked to conduct the inquiry.

Singh also announced an ex-gratia grant of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for the seven severely injured who were referred to Amritsar Medical College. He has announced Rs 25,000 for those with minor injuries.

“Deeply anguished to learn the loss of life due to the blast in the firecracker factory in Batala,” tweeted the chief minister. “Rescue operations are underway with the DC and the SSP heading relief efforts.”

Gurdaspur Deputy Commissioner Vipul Ujjwal said the immediate priority of the administration was to save those still trapped under the debris. “We are trying to find out if anyone is missing,” he said.

“Within a time span of three minutes, two houses collapsed right in front of me,” an eyewitness told The Tribune. The firecrackers were meant to be used on Guru Nanak Dev’s marriage anniversary.

Gurdaspur MP Sunny Deol expressed grief over the incident. Deol said National Disaster Response Force teams and local administration were carrying out the rescue operation. “Saddened to hear about the news of blast in Batala factory,” he wrote on Twitter.

Local residents claimed that several complaints were submitted to the district administration in the past for the closure of the factory as it was illegal. There were demands that the factory be closed down, according to News18. Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Mathijia asked how an illegal factory had been allowed to operate for so long.

In January 2017, there was a similar explosion at the same spot. One person was killed and three injured.

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