Fatal stampede kills 100 in India

11:09, January 15, 2011      

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Hindu devotees pray at the Sabarimala temple during the Maravilakku festival marking the final of a two-month pilgrimage to the Lord Ayyappa temple in Kerala, south India. At least 64 people died and scores were injured Friday in a stampede as crowds at a Hindu religious festival in southern India panicked after a road accident, officials said. (Xinhua/AFP Photo)

At least 100 pilgrims were killed and around 100 others injured in a deadly stampede that took place in southwestern India on Friday evening, local media reported early Saturday.

The tragedy occurred a little after 8 p.m. Friday, when a jeep ploughed through a crowd of pilgrims who were returning from a temple after a ritual in a narrow trekking path of the forest in Idukki district of the southwestern state of Kerala. When the jeep suddenly overturned, it triggered the stampede as the pilgrims ran away, local police said.

An official of Kerala said the overturned jeep crushed some people, and more vehicles behind the jeep slipped, and fell on the pilgrims, triggering the stampede.

Many pilgrims were trampled when the huge crowd surged forward after a barricade broke, a witness was quoted as saying.

There were several thousand pilgrims attending the holy event, and Friday was the most important day for the pilgrims, most of them from the neighboring states, such as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, said the temple's spokesman.

Witnesses said more than 100,000 pilgrims had assembled to witness the celestial light, which was the most important event of the pilgrimage.

Kerala's police officer Sanjay Kumar said the death toll had risen to 100, and he feared the casualties could be even higher because of the factors of low visibility and the hilly terrain.

A forest guard identified only as Saji, who took part in the rescue operation, said about 100 people might have died. "More than 55 bodies have been sent to a nearby hospital, and more bodies are being collected," he added.

The Kerala government launched a huge rescue operation, and its security forces rushed to the scene for the rescue efforts. However, poor light and the huge mass of people at the site hampered their operation.

Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony said it is one of the worst tragedies the country has ever seen. He ordered the troops to provide all the possible help.

Many injured people are receiving treatment in nearby hospitals, and some of them are in critical condition, according to local police.

The site of the incident is a remote area on the border with the state of Tamil Nadu. Many victims were from Tamil Nadu, and they were returning home when the tragedy happened, said local police.

India's Congress MP Thomos said it was a mistake for the security department to dispatch only four policemen to maintain order for more than 100,000 pilgrims.

However, local police claimed that they had made arrangements for the vehicles to use that narrow forest route, but the sheer number of this year's pilgrims made crowd controlling much more difficult.

On Jan. 14, 1999, the collapse of a hillock also caused a fatal stampede at the Pamba base camp in Kerala, leaving 53 pilgrims dead.

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