THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Tragedy struck the popular Sabarimala pilgrimage on Friday with an estimated 100 people reported dead following an accident which resulted in a stampede, around 25km (by road) from the forest shrine in Kerala`s Pathanamthitta district. According to reports from the remote site, more than 100 persons were injured. The mishap occurred at Uppupara, near Vandiperiyar.
Pathanamthitta SP Sanjay Kumar said the toll had touched 100. But with the hilly terrain, nightfall and vehicle jam preventing anyone from reaching the spot, officials fear the casualties could be even higher.
Since the Vnadiperiyar route is mostly used by pilgrims from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, most of the victims are believed to be from the neighbouring states. Dr Suresh, medical officer at the Vandiperyar hospital, said two of the bodies brought there had been idenfied as Suresh (22) from Mysore and Korukutti from Malappuram in Kerala. According to eyewitness accounts, there were also two children among the dead.
The incident occurred a little after 8pm when pilgrims were on their way back after witnessing the Makara Jyoti ceremony. State Dewasom minister, Kadannappalli Ramachandran, quoting preliminary reports, said the tragic chain of events was triggered by a jeep that broke down on the way back from the temple.
As pilgrims tried to move the vehicle, it overturned, crushing a number of people in the process. More vehicles which were behind the jeep slipped and fell on pilgrims, resulting in a stampede.
Rahul Easwar, a member of the Sabarimala priest's family, however, attributed it to a collision between two buses carrying the pilgrims. ``The vehicles fell on the pilgrims, triggering panic and a stampeded,'' he said.
Home minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, said he would confirm what exactly happened only after hearing from his officers. "I've asked the DGP to rush to the scene. The home secretary is already in Pampa and I have asked the SPs and district collectors of Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts to help with rescue efforts,'' he said.
The Makaravilakku festival saw unprecedented rush this year. According to the Travancore Dewasom Board which administers the shrine, the number of pilgrims had registered a 20% rise this year.
The seriously injured were being taken to the Kottayam Medical College. Police said they had made arrangements for vehicles to use the route but the sheer number of pilgrims this year made crowd-control difficult.
On January 14, 1999, 53 persons, the majority of them from outside Kerala, had died in a stampede at the Pamba base camp caused by, among other things, the collapse of a hillock.
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