, RATANGARH, Oct 14 – The death toll from a stampede among Hindu pilgrims in India rose to 109 Monday as outrage mounted over safety at the festival which was also the scene of a similar tragedy seven years ago.
Rescue workers toiled through the night to recover the bodies from a bridge in the town of Ratangarh and from the water below where many people leapt to their death in a bid to avoid the crush.
“The latest information we have from the ground is that 109 people (were) killed and 133 injured,” Anand Mishra, an officer in the local police control room, told AFP in an updated bulletin on Sunday’s tragedy.
“We recovered the bodies from the river and from where they were crushed to the death,” said Mishra, speaking by phone from the nearby city of Datia in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
An AFP journalist at the site said the operation to recover the bodies had been finished and police investigators were now scouring the site.
The tragedy cast a long shadow over celebrations marking the end of one of the holiest festivals in the Hindu calendar.
Police said the panic had been sparked by rumours that the bridge was about to collapse.
Witnesses said the situation was then exacerbated by police wading into the crowds with baton sticks, a charge denied by police.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the condolences for the victims, which reports said included 31 women and 17 children.
“On this day of festivities, our hearts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” Singh said in a statement.
Up to 400,000 devotees were already inside or around the temple, which is about 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of the state capital Bhopal, when the stampede took place.
Large crowds began converging on the site from early morning, according to witnesses, on the penultimate day of the Navaratri festival.
The nine-day festival is dedicated to the worship of the Hindu goddess Durga, which draws millions of worshippers to temples, especially in northern and central India.
Monday marks the official end of the festival when devotees are expected to immerse idols in rivers as a final offering to the goddess.