NEW DELHI – Pilgrims visiting a temple for a popular Hindu festival in India stampeded on fears a bridge would collapse, and at least 109 people were crushed to death or died in the river below, officials said Monday. Scores more were injured, and some bodies may have washed away.
Relatives crowded a state-run hospital to take the bodies after the autopsies and searched frantically for loved ones among the injured people being treated there. Volunteers and residents pulled many bodies out of the Sindh River, where people had jumped when the chaos started Sunday.
Hundreds of thousands of devotees had thronged the remote Ratangarh village temple in Madhya Pradesh state's Datia district to honor the Hindu mother goddess Durga on the last day of the popular 10-day Navaratra festival.
Sunday's stampede was the second at Ratangarh. Around 50 people died in a stampede in 2006, and a two-lane, concrete bridge was built to replace a wooden one.
It was not immediately clear how many people were on the bridge when the stampede occurred, but local media said some 500,000 people visited the temple and some were headed home when the rumors began.
Police wielding sticks had charged the crowd to contain the rush and people retaliated by throwing stones at the officers, D.K. Arya, deputy inspector general of police, said. One officer was badly injured.
The crush of the stampede killed mostly women and children. Many bodies were pulled from the river, but there were fears that some bodies may have been washed away.
The district medical officer R.S. Gupta said that autopsies had been carried out on 109 bodies by late Sunday.
The state has ordered a judicial inquiry. Engineers say the bridge was not damaged, and images from the scene showed vehicles and people using the bridge after the stampede occurred.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed "deep sorrow and shock over the loss of lives" and asked local officials to help the injured and the families of the dead.
"On this day of festivities, our hearts and prayers are with the victims and their families," the prime minister's office said in a statement.
Deadly stampedes are relatively common at temples in India, where large crowds gather in tiny areas with no safety measures or crowd control.
More than 100 people were killed in a stampede at the hilltop Sabarimala shrine in the state of Kerala in southern India in 2011.
In 2008, around 250 Hindu pilgrims died in a stampede at the Chamunda Devi temple located in the scenic Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur in northwest India.