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Families ID India Stampede Victims

Thousands of sobbing relatives struggled to identify the blackened and bruised bodies of loved ones in a hospital Wednesday, a day after a stampede during a religious procession to a hilltop temple killed at least 258 people and injured 200 in western India.

The chain-reaction tragedy began when several Hindu pilgrims inside the temple fell on a slippery floor and were crushed to death by the crowd. Word of the accident then trickled out to some of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims climbing toward the hilltop on a narrow walkway.

Angered over the deaths, some pilgrims began setting the shops lining the path on fire, sparking a stampede that killed at least 258 people, including 156 women, Subha Rao, the top district administrator, told The Associated Press.

Namdeo Yerunkar, 45, was among an estimated 300,000 devotees who had gathered for an annual Hindu festival coinciding with the full moon on Tuesday. He was on the downward journey from the hilltop temple when the stampede broke out.

"The crowd began pushing and I saw people falling like sacks on top of each other. I started shouting for help, but there were no policemen," Yerunkar recalled.

"Nobody paid any attention. As the bodies piled, I picked up coconuts and started throwing on the mob to alert them. An electrical pole came down from the crush of the pilgrims," he said, weeping uncontrollably.

Yerunkar said he helped pull 15 people alive from a mound of bodies. "But I couldn't find my wife Nirmala. I kept shouting for her."

He fainted after he identified his wife's body, wrapped in a white sheet, at the Wai hospital on Wednesday. They had been married for 22 years.

Police chief Chandrakant Kumbhar said the tragedy began when the temple floor became slippery from a ceremony that involved breaking

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