145 killed in temple stampede in India

Thousands of panicked pilgrims crush each other at remote mountaintop temple; dozens of people sent plummeting to their deaths.

india stampede 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
india stampede 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Thousands of panicked pilgrims stampeded Sunday at a remote mountaintop temple in northern India during celebrations to honor a Hindu goddess, sending dozens of people plummeting to their deaths and trampling scores more. Police said 145 people were killed in the crush while attending a religious festival at the Naina Devi Temple in Himachal Pradesh state. Earlier police had put the death toll at 68, but victims that had tumbled down the mountain when a guard rail broke were discovered later, said senior police officer R. N. Dhoke. Many of the dead were women and children and another 37 people were injured and in hospital, he said. Dhoke told The Associated Press by telephone that the death toll was not expected to rise further. Tens of thousands of worshippers had flocked to the remote temple in the foothills of the Himalayas to celebrate Shravan Navratras, a nine-day festival that honors the Hindu goddess Shakrti, or divine mother. The temple is about 250 kilometers northeast of New Delhi. C.P. Verma, a senior government official in the Bilaspur district where the temple is located, said rumors of a landslide apparently started the panic. Pilgrims already at the mountaintop shrine began running down the narrow path leading to the peak, and collided with devotees walking up. With a concrete wall on one side and a precipice on the other, there was nowhere to escape and they were crushed. The bodies of the devotees - many dressed in brightly colored festive clothes - formed a thick carpet of death along the path, their trampled bodies intertwined with bulldozed iron railings. Many still clutched the flowers and food they planned to offer at the temple. At one point a guard rail broke sending dozens more plummeting to their deaths. At the Bilaspur hospital, rescue workers unloaded bodies wrapped in brown blankets from a truck and laid them in neat rows so they could be identified by relatives. "I rushed to the spot in search of my three children who had gone to pay obeisance at the hilltop shrine," Jawahar Khurana told the Press Trust of India news agency as he searched the bodies. "I fail to understand why God was so cruel to us," he said. Police said they used a cable car at the shrine to ferry some of the bodies down, and helicopters were brought in to take the injured to hospitals. Deadly stampedes are a relatively common occurrence at temples in India, where large crowds - sometimes hundreds of thousands of people - congregate in small areas lacking facilities to control such big gatherings. Sunday was the second day of the festival and authorities sought to reassure other pilgrims. "There is no need to panic, everything is normalized now," Verma said.