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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 August, 2003, 03:19 GMT 04:19 UK
Hindus die in festival stampede
Paramedics try to revive an unconscious stampede victim
Medics tried to revive this unconscious stampede victim

At least 33 people have been killed and 125 injured in a stampede at a mass Hindu religious festival in western India.

They were trapped as a crowd of thousands surged towards a holy river in the town of Nasik, north-east of Bombay in the state of Maharashtra.

Many of the dead were said to have been elderly women waiting for the chance to bathe in the holy waters of the Godavari river as part of the Kumbh Mela festival.

Police said they were powerless to prevent hundreds being trampled underfoot.

The stampede happened after a massive crowd of several thousand gathered in a street a short distance from the river bank.


Barricades meant to hold them back reportedly collapsed and the huge crowd surged forward.

Hundreds fell in the rush and those who died were either trampled or drowned after being pushed in the river.

'Tragic accident'

"Old women were crying 'Take me out, help me'," said 35-year-old Lalji Mistry, who managed to escape. "People, even women, were pushing forward."

The injured were treated at the spot or taken in cars and ambulances to nearby hospitals, where hundreds of pilgrims gathered for news of their loved ones.

"One of my relatives, a young woman, died when we fell," a devastated Janak Devi told the AFP news agency. "I just couldn't keep holding onto her. She was so young. I should have died instead."

STAMPEDE HISTORY
1999: 52 dead at shrine in southern Indian state of Kerala
1986: 50 dead at festival in Haridwar
1954: about 800 die during Kumbh Mela in Allahabad
Police, who had been preparing for the festival for years, were overwhelmed by the crowds pushing towards the river.

"There were some 500,000 people behind one barricade and they were pushing," said the state's deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal. "The barricade suddenly broke and they just fell down. It was a tragic accident".

The colourful Kumbh Mela (Grand Pitcher) festival comes to Nasik every 12 years, and this year opened on 30 July.

Wednesday was the third of the five most auspicious days during the festival, when pilgrims take a dip into the Godavari river in the belief that it washes away sin.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"This is not the first time the festival has been overshadowed by a stampede"



SEE ALSO:
In pictures: Stampede in India
27 Aug 03  |  Photo Gallery
Pilgrims gather for Hindu festival
30 Jul 03  |  South Asia
Millions take Hindu holy bath
12 Aug 03  |  South Asia
In pictures: Kumbh Mela
12 Aug 03  |  Photo Gallery
Stampede tragedy at Hindu shrine
15 Jan 99  |  South Asia


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