“Eight of those who died are related to me,” said 26-year-old R Jeeva while returning from the village graveyard on Wednesday late evening.
Eleven people, including three children were electrocuted in the wee hours of Wednesday in a tragic accident in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur district after a temple chariot came in contact with a high-voltage overhead wire during a procession. As many as 15 others were injured in the accident.
The entire Kalimedu village is still in shock. “This annual procession has been happening for 103 years, this was the 104th year and until today there has been no untoward incident,” he said.
The locals who kept breaking down while describing what they saw said that those who were standing near the chariot fell down like “a pack of cards.” Soon after the mishap, the festive mood changed into a tragic one. “The son of the person who decorated the chariot was charred beyond recognition,” said Jeeva.
The night procession usually starts after 11am. The chariot carrying the Appar deity, goes around the village, passing each of the 150 houses, before it goes back to the temple. The procession was almost over and the chariot was making a turn at the end of the road to go back to them temple when it toppled over a ditch and touched the high-voltage wire, said Jeeva.
The accident happened at 3am. Jeeva had broken a coconut when the chariot passed his house at 1am and had gone to sleep. “Suddenly, I heard loud wails and when I went outside my neighbours were running and screaming,” he said. “Four people who were sitting on the chariot, including the priest were thrown off in the impact. An old man, Swaminathan, who rushed to save them, touched one of them and got electrocuted too,” he said.
“A family has lost both a man and his son. Another son is battling for his life in the hospital. Imagine that mother’s plight,” Jeeva said. “People here mostly work as either farmers or coolies. They are all poor, who cannot afford to live if they don’t work for even a single day. They had come to pray here.”
For the villagers this is the second of the three festival processions that they conduct in a year. The height of the bitumen road where the accident occurred was raised by one-and-a-half inch during the previous AIADMK regime, say locals, who are demanding action against road and electricity board officials.