NEW DELHI (AP) – Uma Devi was halfway across the bridge when people started shouting that it was collapsing.
“I grabbed my son and ran,” the distraught woman told Indian TV a day after Sunday’s tragedy in central India. “People were pushing and screaming and trying to run away from the bridge. I don’t know how I escaped.”
The stampede killed 115 people, mostly women and children. Some were crushed to death, while others jumped off the bridge to escape and drowned. Scores more were injured.
They were among hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who had come to the Hindu temple in the remote town of Ratangarh in Madhya Pradesh state on the last day of a popular festival.
Many bodies were pulled from the river, but officials said others may have been washed away.
It was not immediately clear how many people were on the bridge when the stampede occurred, but local media said some 500,000 people visited the temple honoring the Hindu mother goddess Durga.
Deadly stampedes are relatively common at temples in India, where large crowds gather in tiny areas with no safety measures or crowd control. In 2011, more than 100 people were killed at a hilltop shrine in the southern state of Kerala.
This is the second time people have died in a stampede at the same spot. In 2006, around 50 people died on or around the previous wooden bridge, prompting authorities to replace it with a bigger, two-lane concrete span.
Adding to the chaos, police wielding sticks charged the pilgrims to try to contain the crowd. That prompted people to retaliate by throwing stones at the officers, said Dilip K. Arya, deputy inspector general of police. One officer was badly injured.
Relatives crowded a state-run hospital to collect bodies and search frantically for loved ones among the injured people being treated there.
Arya told reporters Monday that 115 people had died in the stampede. He expected the toll to rise because some of the injured were in critical condition.
The state has ordered a judicial inquiry. Engineers say the bridge was not damaged, and images from the scene showed vehicles and people using the bridge after the stampede occurred.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed “deep sorrow and shock over the loss of lives” and asked local officials to help the injured and the families of the dead.
“On this day of festivities, our hearts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” his office said in a statement.
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