Mon, Dec 19, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Stampede kills 45 people in Chennai

YET ANOTHER TRAGEDY Only last month six people died in a similar incident in the flood-ravaged region

AFP AND AP , CHENNAI, INDIA

At least 45 people, mostly women, were killed and more than 50 injured yesterday in a stampede for food coupons at a flood relief camp in the southern Indian city of Chennai, police said.

More than 3,000 people affected by floods had gathered at a government school in the Tamil Nadu state capital to collect food coupons.

The stampede occurred before dawn along a narrow street leading to the school, where people were waiting to collect coupons for provisions, R. Nataraj, the city's police chief, said.

"We had posted several policemen at all relief centers expecting such commotion, but what happened here was beyond the power of all," Nataraj said.

The center is being operated in a government-run school.

"The toll has now risen to 45. Around 50 people are injured. Around 30 people have been taken to the hospital, of which a few are very seriously injured," a police official, who declined to be named said.

"There may be more casualties," he added.

At least 11 policemen who tried to control the crowd were among the injured.

The relief center was scheduled to open at 7:30am but people gathered hours earlier fearing there would not be enough coupons to go round.

"Suddenly it started raining heavily and there was a mad scramble to get in. As the lock on the main door snapped, those in the front got crushed by the jostling crowd behind them," witness Dhanalakshmi said.

Most of the victims were women, police said. Heavy rain was hampering rescue work.

Two of the city's main hospitals, Government and Royapettah, where the injured have been taken, were swamped by policemen and angry relatives.

Women wailed in the corridor of the Government General Hospital while policemen taking the dead to the morgue looked shaken.

At the site of the stampede one person recounted a lucky escape.

"I came here to get coupons for my family as my daughter had just given birth to a baby. I was lucky that I got delayed because of the rains," said Mangamma, who had just reached the spot when the stampede happened.

The injured and relatives of the dead were enraged.

"The authorities should have taken more measures. This is the second such incident in two months," said Murugesan, who was at the Government General Hospital to see his injured wife.

It was the second stampede since the government opened around 150 relief centers to distribute food to thousands of people after heavy rains lashed the region in October, causing floods that destroyed homes.

Last month, six people were crushed to death as a crowd rushed to collect 2,000 rupees (US$44) in cash, food and clothes being distributed by the authorities.

Officials, however, pleaded helplessness.

"What could we have done if people started lining up earlier? Four policemen who were there at the time were enough to man the crowd. After all, this is not a riot situation," said relief worker Rajendran.

At least 430 people have been killed in Tamil Nadu and half a million left homeless by storms that have pounded the state since late October.

The state receives most of its rainfall from the northeast monsoon, which is often marked by cyclonic activity in the Bay of Bengal.

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