- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2008

UPDATED:

JODHPUR, India (AP) &$8211; Thousands of pilgrims panicked by false rumors of a bomb stampeded at a Hindu temple in western India on Tuesday, killing at least 168 people and injuring 100 in the crush to escape, officials said.

The disaster occurred just as the doors of the temple were being opened for worship at dawn for more than 12,000 people celebrating a key Hindu festival in the historic city of Jodhpur in Rajasthan state.

Television footage from after the stampede showed dozens of bodies lying on the sidewalk, while nearby, frantic people tried to revive unconscious devotees by slapping their faces and pressing on their chests.

Others dragged people by their arms and legs, running down a ramp that leads to the temple inside the massive 15th century Mehrangarh fort that overlooks the town.

One child sat on the ground next to the body of a woman, rubbing her forehead and crying “mother, mother.”

The temple floors were slick with coconut milk as thousands of devotees broke coconuts as religious offerings, causing pilgrims to slip and fall as they scrambled to escape, said Ramesh Vyas, a pilgrim who had been standing in line waiting to get in to the temple at the time of the panic.

Vyas said it was the false rumors of a bomb that sparked the chaos, and that tensions were high because India has been hit by a spate of recent bomb attacks. The latest explosions were on Monday night in the western cities of Malegaon and Modasa, killing six people and wounding 45.

The pilgrims had crammed a narrow 1.25-mile (2-kilometer) path leading to the temple. There was a power outage and some pilgrims slipped on the ramp leading to the shrine, the Press Trust of India news agency quoted Director-General of state Police K. S. Bains as saying.

At least 168 people were killed in the stampede, Naresh Pal Gangwar, the district collector, told The Associated Press.

The injured have been admitted to half a dozen hospitals in Jodhpur.

It was the third disaster this year at religious events in India, shocking Hindus as Tuesday marked the first day of Navratra, a nine-day Hindu festival to honor the Mother Goddess.

Jodhpur is some 180 miles (290 kilometers) southwest of the Rajasthan state capital of Jaipur.

The Mehrangarh fort is one of the town’s biggest tourist attractions with its huge walls, ornate interiors and views overlooking Jodhpur’s “blue city.”

Deadly stampedes are a relatively common occurrence at temples in India, where large crowds — sometimes hundreds of thousands of people — congregate in small areas lacking facilities to control big gatherings.

In August, 145 people were killed when rumors of an avalanche sparked a stampede at a hilltop temple in northern India.


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