Death Toll Rises to 111 in Central Indian Hindu Temple Stampede

At least 111 were killed in yesterday’s stampede near a Hindu temple in central India as rumors that a bridge was about to collapse triggered panic and caused pilgrims to jump into the river below.

The police have searched the river for bodies and the death toll is unlikely to rise much further, said S.M. Afzal, Inspector General of Police for the Chambal Range in Madhya Pradesh. Twenty two people are still in hospital, he said.

About half a million pilgrims had converged in Datia district’s Ratangarh for a festival, according to D.K. Arya, a deputy inspector general of police in the state. About 25,000 were crossing the bridge at the time the rumors started to spread, he said. Television images showed bodies and clothes strewn on the bridge as relatives tried to identify the victims.

The local administration has ordered a probe on what caused the panic, the Times of India reported today. A similar incident at the same place in 2006 had washed away about 50 people, according to the newspaper.

Stampedes during mass gatherings occur regularly at religious festivals in India. Yesterday’s was the deadliest in the country since September 2008, when at least 147 people died at a temple in Jodhpur in the western state of Rajasthan. A month earlier 145 people, including 30 children, died in Himachal Pradesh, in India’s north, as a landslide prompted pilgrims to flee a hilltop shrine.

In February, a crowd surge at a railway station in northern India killed at least 36 people as Hindu devotees drawn by one of the holiest days of the world’s largest religious gathering rushed to board trains.

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