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Maharashtra temple stampede toll rises to 340

Reuters

Posted: Jan 25, 2005 at 1505 hrs IST

The Mandhra Devi temple, where more than 340 devotees were trampled to death during an annual pilgrimage in Maharashtra, was closed on Wednesday even as fire brigade and police continued clearing operations.

six bus-loads of injured were rushed to hospitals in Wai, Satara and other hospitals in neighbouring areas, district officials told PTI at the site adding that the exact number of injured could not be ascertained immediately.

Wai police control said 340 pilgrims, majority of them women and children, died in the incident.

A fire broke out in roadside stalls when more than 150,000 people were on an annual pilgrimage to the popular Mandher Devi temple southeast of Mumbai, witnesses said.

Scores were crushed to death on the steep and narrow hill path leading to the temple and many others were charred, they said. Reporters saw at least 100 bodies at the site. "We cannot confirm it, but it appears that 250 to 300 people are dead," Subbarao Patil, district collector for Satara district where the temple is located, told a correspondent for Asia News International television.

"This does not include the people who may have been charred to death in the shops that have been gutted nearby in the fire." Disheveled and mangled bodies were lined up and tin-roofed stalls were smouldering near the temple and the adjoining settlement, situated on a craggy hilltop about 4,000 feet (1,220 metres) high, the ANI reporter said.

"There more than a hundred dead bodies lying around and dozens of others have already been sent down to Wai by bus," she told Reuters by phone. "It is utter mayhem here. The sheds are still smouldering."

Witnesses said the stampede started around midday after pilgrims slipped on the temple's steep stone steps, which had become wet from coconuts broken as an offering to the local deity Kalubai. A fire then broke out in shops nearby and gas cylinders exploded, officials said.

The 300-year-old temple is popular among lower caste Hindus who undertake the annual pilgrimage on a full-moon day in January and participate in a 24-hour-long festival that includes ritual animal sacrifices to the goddess.

In 2003, more than 32 people died at a stampede in Nasik, another town in the western Maharashtra state, during the Kumbh Mela, or Grand Pitcher festival.

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