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More Than 60 Killed in Stampede at Indian Temple

Video grab from Headlines Today television channel shows an Indian woman crying at the scene of a stampede in Pratapgarh, southeast of New Delhi, 04 Mar 2010

At least 63 people have been killed and scores of others injured in a stampede at a temple in a small town in the north of the country. More than half the victims were children and the rest were women.

The accident occurred at the Ram Janki temple in Pratapgarh district in Uttar Pradesh state, where a large crowd had gathered on Thursday for a ritual feast and distribution of free utensils and clothes.

The gifts were being handed out to mark the anniversary of the death of the wife of a Hindu holy man who runs a charitable trust.

The town where the tragedy occurred is about 180 kilometers southeast of the state capital, Lucknow.

Police say the stampede took place when a large gate collapsed and fell on some devotees. A senior police officer in Pratapgarh district, Brij Lal, says this caused the crowd to panic.

"Around 5,000-6,000 people had gathered. Mostly they were locals," said Lal. "In the meantime, the main gate cracked and people died due to injuries."

It is not clear what caused the gate to collapse. Some reports say it was under construction.

As people tried to escape, many tripped and fell. The victims were mostly poor villagers who had gone to get the free gifts.

Rescue operations continued for several hours, with local people joining the police to extricate those trapped. The injured were taken to hospitals in nearby towns.

Witnesses say there were not enough volunteers or arrangements to control the large crowd.

Stampedes have claimed many lives at religious ceremonies held at temples in small towns, where the local administration is not equipped to handle large crowds. In 2008, nearly 300 people died in two separate stampedes at temples in Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan states.