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India police hunt for explosives owner after blast kills 88

Cremation takes place at a mass funeral of some 20 people who were killed in a powerful explosion at Petlawad town, in Jabua district of central Madhya Pradesh state on September 12, 2015. A powerful explosion triggered by a gas cylinder tore through a packed restaurant in India killing at least 85 people and wounding approximately 100 others, police said, in one of the worst such accidents in the country in recent memory.
Sam Panthaky | AFP | Getty Images

Indian police said on Sunday they were hunting for the owner of illegally stored explosives that accidentally detonated in the center of a crowded town, killing at least 88 people.

Rajendra Kaswa, a local businessman, has been charged with illegally storing gelatin sticks and other explosives next to a restaurant and busy junction in the town of Petlawad in central India, officials said. He also faces charges of criminal negligence and culpable homicide.

"He is on the run. One of his accomplices has already been arrested. He has been charged under the Explosives Act," divisional commissioner Sanjay Dubey told Reuters by telephone from the site of Saturday's blast, one of the deadliest in India in recent years.

The explosions ripped through the restaurant as laborers and children ate their breakfast, destroying the diner and nearby buildings and sending debris hurtling into the street where travelers queued for buses in the morning rush hour.

More than 100 were injured in the blasts, 15 of them seriously.

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Police initially thought the accident was triggered by an exploding gas cylinder in the restaurant, which then detonated the explosives next door, but officers now believe it originated in the warehouse next door when heat ignited the explosive materials, fertilizers and other chemicals Kaswa had stored.

Kaswa held a licence for the explosives but keeping them so close to an eatery in a densely populated part of town was illegal, senior police official Seema Alava said.

Television footage showed bodies strewn across the ground amid mangled motorbikes and chunks of concrete. Police said they had since removed all the bodies from the scene.

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The chief minister of Madhya Pradesh state arrived at the scene on Sunday where his convoy was blocked by angry locals waving black flags. Protesters shouted for several public officials to be sacked, the Times of India reported.

Local media said residents previously complained about the location of the explosives but authorities failed to act.

The state government said a full probe into the accident would be carried out, while officials from New Delhi have been dispatched to help with the investigation.

Gelatin sticks are a commonly used explosive for blasting mines and digging wells in the region.