145 Dead In India Temple Stampede

Relatives and friends wait outside Anandpur Sahib Civil hospital in Himachal Pradesh, India, where the dead and injured of a temple stampede were taken Sunday, Aug. 3, 2008.. The devotees were attending a nine-day religious festival at the Naina Devi Temple. At least 68 people, including 30 children, were killed Sunday when pilgrims stampeded at a mountaintop Hindu temple in northern India, police said. (AP Photo/Jaspal Ghai)
AP Photo/Jaspal Ghai
Thousands of panicked pilgrims stampeded Sunday at a remote mountaintop temple in northern India, sending dozens of people plummeting to their deaths and trampling scores more. Police said 145 people were killed.

Many were children who had no chance at all, reports CBS News correspondent Richard Roth. They were crushed or suffocated in the stampede of pilgrims who were frightened by rumors of a landslide on the path to their Hindu shrine.

The crowd of 20,000 or more was too big for a narrow stone pathway leading up to the temple in the foothills of the Himalayas.

When the crowd surged in panic, guard rails gave way -- and some victims fell to their death.

The crowd was gathered for a festival celebrating a Hindu goddess of motherhood. Authorities knew huge crowds would be drawn to the small shrine with no facilities to handle them.

The government now says there will be compensation to the families of all the victims and, Roth reports, an investigation.

The rumors apparently started the panic at the shrine in the foothills of the Himalayas, said C.P. Verma, a senior government official in the Bilaspur district.

Pilgrims already at the Naina Devi Temple began running down the narrow path leading from the peak. There, they collided with devotees winding their way up.

With a concrete wall on one side and a precipice on the other, there was nowhere to escape and they were crushed. At one point a guard rail broke and dozens of people fell to their deaths.

The bodies of the devotees - many dressed in brightly colored holiday clothes - carpeted the path, intertwined with flattened iron railings. Many still held the flowers and food they planned to offer at the temple.

Police said they used a cable car at the shrine to ferry some of the bodies down, and helicopters flew in to take the wounded to hospitals.

At the Bilaspur hospital in Himachal Pradesh state, rescue workers unloaded bodies wrapped in brown blankets from a truck and laid them in neat rows so they could be identified by relatives.

"I rushed to the spot in search of my three children who had gone to pay obeisance at the hilltop shrine," Jawahar Khurana told the Press Trust of India news agency as he searched the bodies.

"I fail to understand why God was so cruel to us," he said.

All the bodies were taken to the Anandpur Sahib hospital in the neighboring state of Punjab where authorities were carrying out autopsies, senior police officer R. N. Dhoke told The Associated Press by telephone from the hospital. He said the death toll was not expected to rise further.

Many of the dead were women and children, he said, and another 37 people were injured and in hospital.

Tens of thousands of worshippers had flocked to the remote temple in the foothills of the Himalayas to celebrate Shravan Navratras, a nine-day festival that honors the Hindu goddess Shakrti, or divine mother.

The temple is about 155 miles northeast of New Delhi.

Deadly stampedes are a relatively common occurrence at temples in India, where large crowds - sometimes hundreds of thousands of people - congregate in small areas lacking facilities to control such big gatherings.

Sunday was the second day of the festival and authorities sought to reassure other pilgrims. "There is no need to panic, everything is normalized now," Verma said.