Thousands of Hindus panicked during a religious procession in western India yesterday, triggering a stampede that killed at least 150 people, a local official said. Many more people were injured.
The stampede occurred near the village of Wai, some 250km south of Mumbai.
Sharad Jadhav, the second-highest official of Satara district where the accident occurred, said he'd been told by officials at the scene that 150 people were killed.
Accounts differed on exactly what had happened. Jadhav said the stampede was caused by overcrowding, but police said it was triggered by a fire.
"A fire caused by a short circuit in a makeshift shop near the temple created panic among the pilgrims. Some tried to flee the area, starting the stampede," said K.K. Pathak, the inspector-general of police in the region.
The situation grew worse when a narrow path leading to the temple became jammed with pilgrims.
More than 300,000 people are reported to have gathered for the Hindu festival, said A.D. Ingle, deputy superintendent of police in the area.
Hindus congregate every year at the hilltop temple of the Hindu goddess Mandra Devi on a full moon night, which fall yesterday this year. The devotees had started arriving in the area on Monday.
Stampedes are not uncommon at major Hindu religious festivals, which can attract millions of worshippers. Authorities are often unable to cope with the huge crowds. Last August, at least 39 Hindus were killed when pilgrims stampeded on the banks of a holy river in Nasik, a town 175km northeast of Mumbai.
Fifty-one pilgrims died in 1999 after a rope meant to channel worshippers snapped in a landslide at a Hindu shrine in southern India, while 50 people were killed in 1986 in a stampede in the northern town of Haridwar. In the worst-ever accident, about 800 pilgrims died during a festival in 1954 in Allahabad.