Over 60 dead in Sabarimala stampede (Third Lead)

January 15th, 2011 - 4:04 am ICT by IANS  

Vandiperiyar (Kerala), Jan 15 (IANS) More than 60 devotees were killed Friday night in a stampede in a forest in Kerala’s Idukki district when they were returning from the Sabarimala shrine, officials said here. The stampede occurred around 8.00 p.m. in Pulumedu, a forested area about 10 km from the Vandiperiyar town, and 30 km from the Sabarimala temple in Pathanamthitta district.

The toll is expected to rise, officials said.

Eyewitness said that over a lakh pilgrims had assembled at a hill in Pulumedu to witness the celestial Makara Jyothi light, the most important event of the pilgrimage.

The pilgrims, mostly from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, were returning after watching the celestial light on the horizon around 7.00 p.m. when the stampede occurred.

State Education Minister M.A. Baby said a jeep that broke down ran into the crowd when some people pushing it lost control of the vehicle, which might have triggered the stampede.

“The place where the tragedy has taken place does not have proper communication facilities and since it is night time rescue operations is getting delayed. The state government has launched a huge rescue operation,” said Baby.

Suresh, a doctor treating the injured at a local hospital here, said the stampede occurred when a barricade broke and the huge crowd surged forward, trampling many under foot.

Since the past few days the temple town has been overflowing with pilgrims, mostly from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Forest guard 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. The injured are being transported to near by hospitals,” he said.

Congress MP P.T.Thomas said there was a serious lapse on the part of the security agency.

“There were more than a lakh pilgrims in the Pulumedu area and there were just four policemen. The authorities have failed to provide proper security in an area where such a huge crowd was there,” said Thomas.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony said this is one of the worst tragedies the country has seen. “I have directed the defence (forces) to see that all the help be provided.”

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