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Page last updated at 14:57 GMT, Monday, 14 September 2009 15:57 UK

Pakistan food stampede kills many

A woman searches for a relative's body in Karachi following a stampede, 14 September 2009
Victims' relatives looked for bodies at a local hospital

At least 14 women and children have been killed in a stampede to get free flour in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, officials say.

Dozens more were injured in the crush, reports say.

The flour was being handed out in a poor, congested neighbourhood of the city by a private group as part of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Pakistani TV showed distraught relatives arriving at a hospital where the injured had been taken.

Some of the victims suffocated in the stampede and others were trampled, officials said.

They said an earlier death toll of 18 had been revised down.

"The incident happened because the distribution was taking place in a very confined area without any precautions," Karachi police chief Waseem Ahmed told reporters.

He said the man distributing the free flour had been detained because he had not given police prior notice.

Rescue workers delayed

The BBC's Arman Sabir in Karachi reports that the unexpected arrival of large numbers of people was a key cause of the tragedy.

Later, crowding and congestion at the site made it difficult for ambulances and rescue workers to get through, he says.

Relatives gathered at the hospital where the dead and injured were taken

The incident took place at Khori Garden in central Karachi, near the waterfront.

The area is lined with narrow streets where wholesalers operate warehouses of wheat, grain, pulses and other such goods.

During Ramadan long traffic jams are common and a profusion of vendors adds to congestion.

Many Muslims hand out food to the poor during Ramadan, the most sacred month of the Islamic calendar, which ends next week.

Hundreds of women were reported to have gathered at the site of Monday's stampede.

Witnesses said it began after an argument broke out while food was being distributed.

"Dozens of women just leapt to grab the items and the man distributing just closed the gate," said one woman who managed to escape.

One teenager caught in the crush told Reuters news agency that the queue had been pushing up some stairs when the lights failed and people started falling over each other in the darkness.

"As we were climbing up the stairs the power went off. I also fainted," said 13-year-old Seema Bibi.

Our correspondent says prices for staple goods have risen sharply in Karachi, and the government appears unable to provide relief to increasing numbers of people affected by poverty.

President Asif Ali Zardari expressed his shock at the loss of life and has ordered an immediate inquiry, the Pakistani APP news agency reported.



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