Rajahmundry (Andhra Pradesh): At least 27 pilgrims were killed and over 60 injured in a stampede during Godavari ‘pushkaralu’ here in Andhra Pradesh on Tuesday, officials said.
The victims, all hailing from coastal Andhra, include 11 women and four children.
The bodies of the victims were shifted to the Rajahmundry government hospital. The injured were also brought to the hospital where the condition of some of them was stated to be critical.
The tragedy occurred on the first day of the festival at one of the bathing ghats in Rajahmundry in East Godavari district on the banks of the Godavari river.
A large number of pilgrims at Kotagummam pushkar ghat rushed towards the three gates and tried to scale them, leading to the stampede.
Officials said pilgrims tried to vie with each other to reach the ghat as taking a holy dip in the early hours is considered auspicious.
The failure of the authorities to anticipate the huge crowds at the ghat and the lack of proper arrangements to regulate the pilgrims apparently led to the incident.
The pilgrims coming out after a dip and those trying to reach the ghat were caught in the rush at the gates. A survivor said officials did not heed to repeated appeals to open the gates.
The Godavari maha pushkaralu, a once in 144-year event, began on Tuesday morning.
The 12-day pushkaralu, described as the Kumbh mela of the south, began in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, who had a holy dip in Rajahmundry on Tuesday morning, rushed to the control room to monitor the situation.
He appealed to people to form queues. He also requested the pilgrims to move to other ghats.
The incident forced authorities to open the VIP ghats to the public. Crowds were also diverted from overcrowded ghats.
Naidu, who later visited the hospital to call on the injured, announced an ex-gratia of Rs.10 lakh each to the families of the dead.
In a voice chocked with emotions, the chief minister said the incident occurred despite all precautions taken by the administration.
He said a comprehensive probe would be conducted after completion of the pushkaram.