NEW DELHI – Dozens of women and children were among 145 people who died when thousands of pilgrims stampeded at a remote mountaintop temple in northern India during celebrations to honor a Hindu goddess, police said.
The devotees were attending a religious festival Sunday at the Naina Devi Temple in the Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh state.
More than 60 of the dead were women and children, said senior police officer R. N. Dhoke.
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, Dhoke said. Another 37 people were injured and in hospital.
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.
Sunday was the second day of the festival.
Bilaspur is about 155 miles northeast of New Delhi.
C.P. Verma, a senior government official in the Bilaspur district, 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.
The bodies of the victims — 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 had planned to offer at the temple.
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 PTI as he searched the bodies. "I fail to understand why God was so cruel to us," he said.
Police said helicopters were used to take some of the injured to hospitals.