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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 January, 2005, 19:45 GMT
Nightmare of India temple stampede

By Jayshree Bajoria
BBC News, in Wai

Scene of devastation
Scores of people died in the fire and the crush
An acrid smell of burning fills the air and debris is scattered all around the Mandhar Devi temple in India's Maharashtra state.

The Hindu temple sits on a hill with a pretty view, but is now a scene of complete devastation following Tuesday's deadly fire and stampede.

Black fumes rise from what remains of shops lining the lane up to the temple.

Shop owners are confused, sad and angry at their loss, and many blame inaction by the authorities for what happened.

'Police did not help us'

According to officials and eyewitnesses, angry people among the crowd set fire to the shops after a stampede claimed their loved ones.

We couldn't do much because the people are angry and irritated and refuse to co-operate
Relief worker VV Alka

Lata Wankhede sits in despair outside what used to be her livelihood and her home for the last 25 years.

She blames inaction on the part of the police for what happened. "People had burnt just a few shops. So we asked the police to help us and stop the others from being blown up but they did not help us," she told the BBC.

"We kept crying for help but help arrived only after five to six hours, and by then everything had turned to ashes."

Lata Wankhede
Shopkeepers like Lata Wankhede are angry

The fire caused gas cylinders to explode, causing more panic and deaths.

Officials put the number of shops burnt at 250.

One relief worker, VV Alka, feared the situation near the temple was still not completely under control.

"We couldn't do much because the people are angry and irritated and refuse to co-operate. We came up here to find the cause, but we are getting conflicting statements and therefore we can't make out what really happened."

Coping with loss

More than 250 people have died so far.

Most of the bodies were taken to the mission hospital at Wai, a small town nearby. Relatives of the dead and the injured thronged the place for information.

Sanjay More
I got stuck on the hill and kept shouting for help but to no avail
Sanjay More

One of those injured, Sanjay More, is mourning the death of his aunt, sister and his sister's little son.

He too blamed police inaction for the scale of disaster. "I got stuck on the hill and kept shouting for help, but to no avail. The police kept looking on, but did nothing.

"If they had tried to help people exit one-by-one from the side, it may have helped. Most people died due to suffocation. It is only by God's grace that I survived, because all others around where I was stuck died."

Sukeshini Kamble, 18, has just sat 10th-grade school exams. She is yet to come to terms with her mother's death in the stampede. With a mentally disabled father at home to support, her mother was the sole breadwinner in the family.

Just outside the room where she is lying, a desperate father is looking for his 10-year-old son, who got lost in the stampede.

'Too many doctors'

But both Sanjay and Sukeshini are satisfied with the aid provided at the hospital.

Scene of devastation
The area is littered with debris

With a team of more than 100 doctors, several non-governmental organisations, 400 policemen, police commandos and state reserve police providing relief, the patients and their relatives are well looked after.

One local official, district collector SB Patil, says: "There are more doctors than we require. We have adequate medicines as well."

The town, its people and all those gathered at the hospital are in a state of shock, huddled in groups poring over the newspaper headlines.

At the bus stand, pilgrims gathered in groups.

Shobha Kale was stuck with her two small children and husband near the temple all night in the cold without food and water.

''We were mid-way to the temple when news of the stampede reached us. We waited by the side but it became really dark," she says. "It was only in the wee hours of the morning that another family gave us a lift down into town.''

The family is still waiting for two missing members from their group.


SEE ALSO:
Arson probe into India stampede
26 Jan 05 |  South Asia
Scores killed in Indian stampede
25 Jan 05 |  South Asia
India rally stampede 'kills 21'
12 Apr 04 |  South Asia
Hindus die in festival stampede
28 Aug 03 |  South Asia
Pilgrims gather for Hindu festival
30 Jul 03 |  South Asia
Stampede tragedy at Hindu shrine
15 Jan 99 |  South Asia


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