Temple stampede kills at least 133 in India

At least 133 Hindu worshippers were killed and 48 injured in a stampede at a shrine in India's northern state of Himachal Pradesh on Sunday, officials said, dpa reported.

The stampede occurred at the Naina Devi temple dedicated to goddess Durga, located atop a hill in Bilaspur district, some 320 kilometres north of national capital New Delhi.

"The police teams have counted 123 dead bodies at the hospital after the tragedy. Of the victims, 40 were children and upto 45 women," Himachal Additional Director General of Police Daljit Singh Manhas said by telephone.

"48 people have been injured. The death toll could go up as a few more wounded could have succumbed to injuries on way to local hospitals," he added.

Senior administration officials said rumours of a landslide and boulders rolling down the hill apparently caused the stampede.

"The rumours created a commotion that sparked the stampede as devotees on the stairway to the temple tried to push their way, causing a collapse of the system of fences," state's principal secretary PC Kapoor said.

"This panic caused a rush between crowds returning from the temple and those going up to the shrine. People started running here and there," Kapoor said.

He said the death toll was high because panic-stricken people ran in the narrow and congested stairway trampling children, women, the old and the infirm.

A majority of the victims were from the neighbouring state of Punjab located some 50 kilometres away.

Tens of thousands of people have been gathering at the temple on the occasion of the 10-day Sharavan Ashtami fair that began Saturday, which is considered auspicious by the Hindus.

As many as 50,000 people may have been at the temple for the festivities, local media said.

Heavy rains and lack of coordination amongst agencies had hampered rescue operations and evacuation of the injured, officials said.

Meanwhile, Himachal Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal ordered an inquiry into whether adequate safety provisions were in place at the temple. He also offered compensation to those injured in the stampede and to the families of those killed.

Temple stampedes are not uncommon in India where huge crowds gather to pray on auspicious days at complexes where the approach roads and entrances are usually narrow.

There have been at least three fatal stampedes in the country so far during 2008, which claimed over 21 lives in Hindu temples in the southern, central and eastern states.

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