4 Aug 2008

Stampede kills 145 pilgrims in north India

5:03 pm on 4 August 2008

At least 145 people, mostly women and children, were crushed to death under the feet of thousands of pilgrims in a stampede at a temple in northern India on Sunday.

Hindu worshippers were walking up a 4 kilometre trail leading to a hilltop temple in Himachal Pradesh state when the stampede happened. Thousands of worshippers were gathering at the temple in Bilaspur district to pray to a Hindu goddess during the annual festival.

Police said the pilgrims might have panicked when some loose stones from a retaining wall along the hilly trail fell, following heavy rain.

Senior police officer Daljit Singh Manhas said the pilgrims started fleeing down the slope, breaking an iron side railing and trampling falling women and children under their feet.

Witnesses said people jumped over broken railings and bodies to save themselves. Children lost their grip on their mothers' hands and were crushed under the feet of scared pilgrims.

Police and health department officials said at least 40 children and 45 women were among the dead.

More than 10,000 people were trying to get into the temple when the stampede began and police had been struggling desperately to keep the situation under control.

Stampedes at temples are not uncommon in India, where thousands of people gather to pray during festivals. In 2005, about 265 pilgrims were killed in a stampede near a temple in the western state of Maharashtra.