Jodhpur, Sep 30 (IANS) Nearly two months after a similar tragedy, at least 150 people were crushed to death in a stampede at dawn Tuesday in an ancient hilltop temple here in Rajasthan, officials said.
Nearly 150 people were also injured, some of them critically, in the stampede at the Chamunda Devi temple inside the imposing Mehrangarh Fort.
While officials maintain the death toll is 150, reports coming from the three hospitals where the bodies were taken put the toll at over 195.
The reason for the stampede is still unclear. Eyewitnesses blamed it on the heavy rush of devotees and a tussle among them to reach the temple doors first when these opened as it was the first day of the auspicious Navratri festival. However, the police say it was caused because a barricade collapsed.
On Aug 3, 145 people were killed in a stampede at the Naina Devi shrine in Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayan foothills.
State Home Minister G.C. Kataria told IANS that 150 people were killed in the tragedy. He said the figure could go up as many of the critically injured were battling for their lives in hospitals.
The disaster took place around 6 a.m., less than three hours after the temple - built in 1460 as part of the Mehrangarh fort that is a big tourist attraction - opened for prayers on the occasion of Navaratri festival.
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.
K.S. Bains, the director general 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.
The Rajasthan government has ordered a judicial enquiry to ascertain the cause of stampede.
'Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has ordered a judicial inquiry to be conducted by a retired high court judge in the tragic incident of today's stampede at Chamunda Mata temple in Jodhpur. The commission will submit its report within three months,' a government statement said.
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.
The 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.
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.
'I do not know exactly what happened. All I know was that we saw people running and falling on one another. While some said there were a bomb inside, others said that police had resorted to a cane charge to control devotees,' said Kailash Joshi, an eyewitness.
'We will investigate the matter to find out the actual cause,' a senior district official said. The state government has announced Rs.200,000 to the families of each of those killed and Rs.50,000 for those seriously injured.
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