Jodhpur, Sep 30 (IANS) In one of the worst tragedies of its kind in India, at least 150 people were crushed to death in a stampede at dawn on Tuesday at an ancient hilltop temple here in Rajasthan, officials said.
Nearly 150 people were also injured, some of them critically, they said.
State Home Minister G.C. Kataria told IANS that while 150 people had been declared dead, the figure could go up with many of the critically injured battling for their lives in hospitals.
The disaster took place around 6 a.m., less than three hours after the historic Chamunda Mata temple - built in 1460 as part of the imposing Mehrangarh fort that is a big tourist attraction - opened for prayers on the occasion of Navaratri festival.
While there have been a number of deadly stampedes in India, especially in crowded shrines or at religious congregations like the Kumbh Mela at Hardwar, the latest one is among the worst. On Aug 3, 145 people had died in a stampede at the Naina Devi shrine in Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayan foothills.
According to one account, 8,000 to 10,000 men, women and children were gathered in the complex at the time of the accident, all using a narrow pathway leading to the temple.
Even hours later, people were frantically running from one hospital to another looking for their missing kin. All over Jodhpur, a fort city about 330 km from the state capital Jaipur, numerous families were preparing to light funeral pyres for their loved ones.
Almost all the dead were believed to be males because the stampede took place in the male section of two parallel and winding barricades set up on a pathway on the mountain slope.
K.S. Bains, the chief of Rajasthan state police, said that in the early hours of the fateful morning there was a power failure for a brief period which could have caused some of the devotes to slip.
"And because of the slippage, there was a cascading effect", he said.
Survivors recalled how an unexpected panic run killed so many - in just 30 minutes.
'Everything moved so fast that we did not even understand what happened,' said Kamal, 24, who was in the queue of devotees on the hill. 'Suddenly we saw people run and fall over each other. By God's grace, we saved ourselves.'
Added Rammurti, a 30-year-old man: 'I was in the middle of a very long queue. People had started to gather since early morning. All of a sudden they started to run and fall on one another. I escaped but my feet got crushed.'
Not everyone was that lucky.
'I am trying to locate my only son,' said Kamla, a woman, with tears in her eyes.
'I have been to two hospitals but I cannot find him. Please help me,' she pleaded.
The stampede occurred about 150 feet from the shrine when the devotees were rushing downhill. With no motorable road reaching up to the temple, it was left to the devotees to carry the dead and wounded for about half a kilometre from where they were taken by ambulances and private vehicles to the hospitals.
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