SRINAGAR, India (AP) — A crowd surge at a popular Hindu shrine in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least 12 people and injured 15 others on New Year’s Day, officials said.
Initial reports suggested an altercation between a group of devotees led to the crush early Saturday at the Mata Vaishnav Devi shrine, where tens of thousands of Hindus gathered to pay respects in the hilly town of Katra near southern Jammu city.
“Something happened near one of the gates and I found myself under a crush of people. I suffocated and fell but somehow managed to stand up,” said Mahesh, who gave only one name.
“I saw people moving over the bodies. It was a horrifying sight, but I managed to help in rescuing some injured people,” he said.
Press Trust of India news agency quoted police chief Dilbag Singh as saying that authorities were quick to respond and the order within the crowd was immediately restored.
The pilgrimage resumed after nearly four hours, officials said. An investigation was underway.
Another devotee named Priyansh said he and 10 friends from New Delhi arrived Friday night to visit the shrine. He said two of his friends died in the crush.
Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi expressed his condolences in a message on Twitter.
“Extremely saddened by the loss of lives due to a stampede,” Modi wrote.
Pilgrims often trek on foot to reach the hilltop temple, which is one of the most visited shrines in northern India.
Deadly crowd surges are fairly common during Indian religious festivals where huge gatherings, sometimes in the millions, cover small areas with few safety or control measures.
In 2013, pilgrims visiting a temple for a popular Hindu festival in central Madhya Pradesh state trampled over each other amid fears that a bridge would collapse, and at least 115 people were crushed to death or died in the river below.
More than 100 Hindu devotees died in a 2011 crush at a religious festival in the southern state of Kerala.