NEW DELHI – A stampede by masses of Hindu worshippers crossing a bridge to a temple in central India left at least 89 people dead Sunday, police said.
The chaos broke out as rumors spread that the bridge was collapsing over the Sindh River, D.K. Arya, deputy inspector general of police in the Chambal region of Madhya Pradesh state, told the Press Trust of India.
Among the 89 people killed by the crush were 17 children and 31 women, he said. Hours later, relatives were searching for missing loved ones among the bodies that were lying grouped together on the bridge.
More than 100 people were being treated in a hospital for injuries including broken bones.
Police wielding sticks had charged the crowd in an effort to contain the rush, Arya said. People retaliated by hurling stones at officers, and one officer was badly injured.
It was not immediately clear how many people were on the bridge when the stampede started. Local media said some 500,000 people had gone to the remote Ratangarh village temple in the Madhya Pradesh district of Datia to honor the Hindu mother goddess Durga on the last day of the popular 10-day Navaratra festival.
The state has ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident.
Sonia Gandhi, the leader of India's ruling Congress Party, expressed "shock and deep anguish over the tragic incident," according to a party statement.