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Up to 150 Hindu Pilgrims Die in Temple Stampede

Up to 150 Hindu pilgrims attending an annual festival have been killed in a stampede in Northern India. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, many of the victims are women and children.

Officials say the tragedy occurred when a metal railing along a narrow mountain path leading to Naina Devi temple in Himahcal Pradesh state collapsed under the weight of tens of thousands of devotees who had come to attend a religious festival on Sunday.

The temple is situated on a hilltop in the state's Bilaspur district.

Officials say the collapse of the railing triggered panic among pilgrims, and a stampede ensued as people tried to flee to safety. There are many women and children among the victims, who fell down and were trampled.

A senior police official in Bilaspur, Bimal Gupta, says bad weather worsened the situation.

"At the same time there was heavy rain. People wanted to save themselves," Gupta said. "In the midst you know the stampede occurred. But the administration, the local police and Home Guards, they immediately started the rescue work within 15 minutes."

Police used a cable car to ferry down the dead and wounded from the hilltop. Helicopters aided the rescue efforts. Scores of injured people have been rushed to hospitals. As news of the stampede spread, relatives flocked in to identify the victims.

The temple was packed at the time of the tragedy . It was the second day of the nine-day long festival called Shavran Navratras, where tens of thousands gather every year to pray to a Hindu goddess. Many of the worshippers were from the neighboring state of Punjab.

Stampedes at religious festivals have occurred previously in India, where massive crowds gather on such occasions - sometimes in remote towns where the local administration is not equipped to handle large crowds. In 2005, more than 250 pilgrims were killed in a stampede near a temple in Western India.