AT LEAST 109 people are believed to have been crushed to death following a stampede at a religious festival in India.
Scores of others are being treated in hospital for injuries including broken bones after the incident, on a narrow bridge leading to a remote village Hindu temple yesterday.
Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh said of the incident, in the Madhya Pradesh state of the country: “On this day of festivities, our hearts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
Hours after the collapse, relatives were still searching for loved ones among the bodies grouped on the concrete, two-lane bridge over the Sindh River in the Chambal region.
Panic broke out on the bridge as some feared it would collapse. It caused a stampede as many clamoured for safety, while others are believed to have leapt to their deaths into the river below.
Police wielding sticks had charged the crowd to contain the rush, with witnesses reporting people retaliating by throwing stones at the officers, DK Arya, deputy inspector general of police, told the Press Trust of India. One officer was badly injured.
It was not immediately clear how many people were on the bridge when the stampede, described by police as “a mad rush”, started.
Local media said some 500,000 people had gone to the remote Ratangarh village temple to honour the Hindu mother goddess Durga on the last day of the popular 10-day Navaratra festival.
The state has ordered a judicial inquiry.
Sonia Gandhi, the leader of India’s ruling Congress Party, expressed “shock and deep anguish over the tragic incident”, according to a party statement.