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Stampede near Sabarimala shrine, more than 95 pilgrims killed

Saturday January 15, 2011 10:57:32 AM, IANS

Vandiperiyar (Kerala): The toll in a stampede of pilgrims in Kerala's Idukki district rose to 97 Saturday after more bodies were recovered. The stampede occurred when the pilgrims were returning after watching the celestial Makara Jyothi light, the most important event of the pilgrimage, from a hillock some 30 km from the Sabarimala temple.

The stampede occurred around 8.00 p.m. Friday in Pulumedu, a forested area about 10 km from the Vandiperiyar town, and about 30 km from the Sabarimala temple in Pathanamthitta district.

Idukki Congress MP P.T. Thomas confirmed that so far 71 bodies have reached the Vandiperiyar hospital, where all the bodies are being brought, and the remaining are being transported from the accident site. The injured are being treated in various hospitals.

"We are being told the gruesome accident took place around 8.00 p.m. at Pulumedu. The entire place was full of vehicles and more than a lakh of pilgrims were returning from a hillock after seeing the celestial light that appeared on the horizon soon after 7 p.m.

"Suddenly a jeep which broke down lost control and went into the waiting pilgrims and this created a panic causing a stampede," said Thomas.

The pilgrims are mostly from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Over the past few years, following the huge influx of pilgrims from the Thekkady side, Pulumedu has become a point for these pilgrims to witness the celestial light.

State Ports Minister V. Surendran Pillai, who reached the Vandiperiyar hospital early Saturday, said that the number of victims, including those injured, are currently being ascertained.

"Today what will happen is that the bodies of those who lost their lives will have to be transported to their homes. The state government will decide on how this has to be done," said Pillai.

Pamba, the base camp to the Sabarimala temple, has been overflowing with pilgrims since the past few days.

Leader of opposition Oommen Chandy, who cancelled his statewide yatra after the accident, also visited the Vandiperiyar hospital. He said that a detailed probe has to be launched to find out what led to this tragedy.

Director General of Police Jacob Punnoose who visited the hospital said that to reach the accident site is a laborious task because there is only a narrow road that leads to the site. "Since it is pitch dark in the area, rescue operations is taking a lot of time," said Punnoose.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony said this is one of the worst tragedies the country has seen. "I have directed the defence (forces) to see that all the help be provided." He said it is a national tragedy.







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