January 28, 2005
Scores of pilgrims killed in Indian stampede

INDIA: Up to 300 Hindu pilgrims are feared dead and hundreds injured during a stampede at a Hindu festival in India.

The stampede happened during a pilgrimage to the remote Mandhar Devi temple in western Maharashtra state. {{more}}

Officials say thousands panicked during a religious procession after a fire broke out in roadside stalls.

Many pilgrims were crushed and burned to death as the fire forced crowds into a narrow stairway leading to the hilltop temple.

The stampede occurred near the village of Wai, more than 200km (125 miles) south of Mumbai (Bombay), where pilgrims congregate every year at the temple to venerate a Hindu goddess.

This year more than 300,000 people had gathered, and the narrow path leading to the temple was jammed with worshippers, many of them women and children.

Accounts vary as to what caused the stampede. One local police inspector blamed a fire caused by an electrical short circuit in a makeshift shop.

Other witnesses said pilgrims began burning and looting roadside stalls after they became frustrated at long delays in gaining entry to the temple site.

The procession quickly became panicked and the narrow passage was jammed as crowds surged forward to avoid the flames.

A local police chief, V N Deshmukh, put the death toll at more than 300 and said that more than 200 were taken by bus to local hospitals, the AFP news agency reported.

District official Subarrao Patil told Reuters that 250 to 300 people died in the crush.

“This does not include the people who may have been charred to death in the shops that have gutted nearby in the fire,” he said.

“People got suffocated in the crush. Bodies are still lying there,” shopkeeper Sanjay Mistry, who was among the pilgrims, told AFP.

“There was a lot of chaos and cries of ‘many people are dead’,” he added.