Toll in Himachal hill shrine stampede mounts to 145 (Fourth Lead)

August 3rd, 2008 - 10:04 pm ICT by IANS  


Naina Devi (Himachal Pradesh), Aug 3 (IANS) At least 145 people were killed and 40 injured in a stampede at the Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh when throngs of devotees panicked after a rumour that boulders were rolling down the popular hill shrine. Most of those killed were women and children. A majority of the victims were from neighbouring Punjab.

A state government statement Sunday evening said that 123 people were killed and 40 injured in the accident.

Later, Superintendent of Police R.N. Dhoke told IANS that 145 bodies had reached the Civil Hospital at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, 30 km from the temple.

The toll was mounting apparently because the bodies of those who tumbled down the hillside after a safety barricade gave way under their weight were being recovered by the police and rescuers.

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, who visited the hospital, said 140 people died in the tragedy.

Rescue operations at the shrine, which is located atop a hill and to reach it devotees have to walk the last few hundred metres on a steep gradient, were hit by inclement weather and lack of coordination among various agencies.

Additional Director General of Police D.S. Manhas told IANS from Shimla that the death toll could well mount further. He said most of the injured had been taken to the district headquarters of Bilaspur, 70 km from here, and Anandpur Sahib.

The temple is located 160 km from state capital Shimla, the popular hill resort in northern India.

The crowd of devotees had gathered at the temple on the occasion of the 10-day Shravan Ashtami fair that began Saturday.

According to mythology, an eye of Sati, Lord Shiva’s consort, fell at the site during his tandav (dance of destruction), earning the place its name ‘Naina Devi’ - goddess’s eye. It is one of the most popular shrines in north India.

Manhas said the stampede occurred when someone spread the rumour that boulders had started rolling down from the hill shrine. This led to panic and one of the safety barricades gave away under the weight of rushing devotees, leading to their fall. In the resultant stampede, many died and were injured, he said.

The accident took place around 400 metres from the main temple.

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