October 1, 2008

Scores Die in Stampede at Hindu Temple

By Andrew Buncombe

Disaster that crushed worshippers may have been sparked by bomb scare

FRANTIC Hindu devotees battleddesperately to revive people trampled and crushed in a stampede at ahistoric temple yesterday that left at least 168 worshippers dead.

Television footage filmed outside the temple, located in a 15th- century fort in the city of Jodhpur, showed police and onlookers using blankets to carry out the injured and dead. Laying them down on the pavement, people struggled to revive those who had been hurt, pressing their chests and slapping their faces. Other victims were dragged out by the feet or arms. Small children were seen sitting, crying in anguish, next to the corpses of their parents.

Officials fear the death toll could yet reach 200. The cause of the stampede that left at least another 100 peopleinjured was unclear last night. Onereport said devotees had panicked asrumours spread that a bomb alert had been issued at the temple. Anotherreport said the crush developed aspeople rushed forward towards the door of the temple as soon as it opened early yesterday morning. Chaosensued as people began jostling with each other and some slipped on the ramp that stretches for more than a mile leading up to the temple entrance.

"Several people fell down as the floor became slippery with thousands of devotees breaking coconuts for offering at the temple," one witness, Ramesh Vyas, told reporters.

The stampede happened at about 5.30am outside the Chamunda Devi temple inside the famous and sprawling Mehrangarh fort that overlooks the Rajasthan desert city, about 200 miles from Delhi. Up to 25,000 people had gathered before dawn for the first day of Navaratri, a nine-day Hindu festival of intense and sometimes feverish worship dedicated to the Mother Goddess.

Reports said the crush happened in the line for men, and a number of those killed were young. One small child was seen wailing over his father's lifeless body, "Daddy, please get up."

Tragically, fatal stampedes attemples in India are not uncommon. Earlier this summer, many children were among the 145 people killed at a crush at the Naina Devi temple in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh. In 2005, about 265 pilgrims were killed in a stampede near a temple in thewestern state of Maharashtra.

But, in recent weeks, India has been rocked by a series of bomb attacks that have left dozens dead and many more nervous about further explosions. Crowded together in an area with no obvious route for escape, if rumours of a bomb alert had spread among the devotees, panic would have quicklyfollowed. One witness, who gave his name only as Anubhav, told Reuters: "People were falling over one another. Many ran but were trampled under the feet of thousands." The injured were rushed to a number of local hospitals, some of which were short of oxygenrequired to treat the injured and where dead bodies were being stacked up,according to some local news reports.

Outside the Mathura Das Mathur hospital, relatives anxiously worked their way through lists of names of those admitted to the emergency room. Inside, the scenes were equally chaotic as doctors struggled to deal with the sheer number of those hurt. A senior Rajasthan official, S N Thanvi, said: "A majority of those killed died due to suffocation as a result of the stampede."

Police insisted they had deployed sufficient officers for the festival but officials said there would be a full inquiry. "We will definitely conduct an inquiry," Rajasthan's Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria, told reporters. "And if we find people were negligent, we will definitely take action."

Originally published by By Andrew Buncombe ASIA CORRESPONDENT, IN DELHI.

(c) 2008 Independent, The; London (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.