Stampede near a Hindu temple was triggered by a rumour a bridge might collapse after being struck by a heavy vehicle.
Indian temple stampede kills more than 90
BHOPAL // More than 90 people are now known to have died on Sunday in a stampede near a Hindu temple in India, police said.
“The death toll has risen to 91 and 10 others are in a critical condition,” deputy police inspector DK Arya said, after the tragedy in the Datia district of central Madhya Pradesh state.
Insp Gen Arya said the stampede was triggered by a rumour the bridge might collapse after being struck by a heavy vehicle around lunchtime.
“There were rumours that the bridge could collapse after the tractor hit it,” he said.
“Many people are feared to have fallen into the river and are unaccounted for.”
Other police sources said that some 20,000 people were on the bridge over the River Sindh when the stampede broke out.
Large crowds began converging on the site from early morning, according to witnesses.
Up to 400,000 devotees were already inside or around the temple in Datia district, which is around 350 kilometres north of the state capital Bhopal, when the stampede happened.
NDTV, an Indian television network, cited sources at the scene as saying the situation was exacerbated by police charging at the crowds with heavy wooden sticks known as lathis.
However Insp Gen Arya insisted “there was no baton-charge” by the police.
The Times of India reported that crowds could seen pelting police with stones as frustration grew over the rescue operation.
Efforts to reach the injured and ferry them to hospital were being hampered by the huge volume of traffic in the area.
A team of around 20 medics had however managed to reach the scene of the tragedy and the casualty wards of nearby hospitals were being emptied to cope with the influx of victims, the newspaper added on its website.
Hindus are celebrating the end of the Navaratri festival, dedicated to the worship of the Hindu goddess Durga, which draws millions of worshippers to temples especially in northern and central India.
India has a long history of deadly stampedes at religious festivals, with at 36 people trampled to death back in February as pilgrims headed home from the Kumbh Mela religious festival on the banks of the river Ganges.
Some 102 Hindu devotees were killed in a stampede in January 2011 in the state of Kerala while 224 pilgrims died in September 2008 as thousands of worshippers rushed to reach a 15th-century hill-top temple in Jodhpur.
Sonia Gandhi, president of India’s main ruling Congress party, was among those to express condolences over Sunday’s tragedy.
The stampede comes only weeks before Madhya Pradesh is due to hold elections for the state assembly.