16 die in Indian festival stampede
Dehradun - At least 16 people were crushed to death and dozens of others injured in a stampede at a religious ceremony close to the river Ganges in northern India on Tuesday, officials said.
"So far 14 women and two men have died, and 46 others are seriously injured," D Santhel Pandiyan, district magistrate in the nearby town of Haridwar, said by telephone from the accident site.
"More worshippers turned up than the place could accommodate and so the stampede occurred."
Hemant Sahu, media contact for the event organisers, said that tens of thousands of Hindu devotees crowded toward a fire at the Shantikunj ashram to make offerings.
"When the big ritual was going on, too many people rushed forward to make their offerings to the holy fire and the crowd got out of control," he said.
"A couple of people fell down and that is what happened. We think the death toll may still go up."
The Press Trust of India news agency reported the stampede broke out when worshippers tried to enter the ashram to take part in ceremonies to celebrate 100 years since the birth of its revered founder Shreeram Sharma.
The police chief of Uttarakand state said that 50 000 people had gathered for the festival, and that many had tried to congregate at the same time in an area where fires had been lit on ritual grounds.
"As a result there were suffocations and then a stampede," Jyoti Swaroop Pandey told reporters, adding that the five-day celebrations had been cut short and an inquiry launched.
Haridwar, 173km north of New Delhi where the Ganges emerges from the Himalayan mountains, is one of Hinduism's most sacred cities and among India's most important pilgrim destinations.
Pilgrims visit Haridwar throughout the year to bathe in the Ganges, which they believe will cleanse them of their sins, while the vast Kumbh Mela festival is held around the city every 12 years.
Stampedes are a regular risk in India where policing and crowd control are often inadequate at temples and on pilgrimage routes, where throngs of fervent devotees congregate on auspicious occasions.
The last major stampede was in January in the southern state of Kerala when more than 100 people died as panic spread among worshippers crossing mountainous terrain in the dark to visit a shrine.
Stampedes in India are often triggered by rumours of a bomb blast, a collapsed wall or a car crash.
In March 2010, police in Uttar Pradesh blamed lax safety for the deaths of 63 people - all of them women and children - in a stampede outside another Hindu temple.
At least another 10 people died in a stampede at a temple in the state of Bihar in October 2010.
The worst recent incident was in October 2008 when around 220 people died near a temple inside Jodhpur's famous Mehrangarh Fort.