Vandiperiyar (Kerala): In a major tragedy in Kerala's Idukki district over 100 pilgrims died and 50 others injured, seven of them seriously, in a stampede that occurred at Uppupara near Vandiperiyar on Friday evening.
The accident occurred near at 8.30 PM on Friday evening. Sabarimala spokesperson Rahul Easwar said that 109 pilgrims were dead and 12, some of them children, were still missing. He also said that Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan has called for a meeting to take stock of the situation.
Additional Director General of Police A Hemachandran said that an autorickshaw ran over some people followed by a stampede due to which the casualties reached above 100.
Rescue operations continued through the night with Army and Navy personnel assisting the civil authorities. The tragedy happened barely two hours after lakhs of devotees had witnessed the Makar Jyoti on the occasion of Makar Sankranti.
"The devotees themselves opted this place as they could get a good view of the Jyoti and the tragedy happened," said Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, condoling the incident said.
Most of the victims were from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh as the grassland forest route known as 'Pulmedu' in the Periyar tiger reserve, is used by devotees from these states. One of the victim has been identified as a Sri Lankan citizen. Till now 39 victims have been identified.
"Most of the The victims belong to Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra. One Sri Lankan citizen has also lost life. The devotees gather during Makar Sankranti day in Sabarimala. Yesterday many devotees gathered in a forest area from where they could watch Makar Jyoti. After watching the Jyoti, they were going to catch their respective buses. The stampede happened then and many lost their lives. The government has taken all steps for the relief work," said Kerala Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.
According to official sources, but for a few persons feared missing, all the others involved in the accident has been accounted and the spot cleared. Some of the seriously injured had been admitted to Kottayam Medical College Hospital.
Kerala government will bear the expenses of treatment for those injured in the tragedy.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced Rs 1 lakh as compensation for the next of those killed.
The helpline numbers given by the Kumali police station are 0486922049 and 04869253456. Helpline telephones for assistance have been established at DG and IGP Control in Bangalore. The telephone number for this helpline number is 08022211777 and the toll free number is 18004250100.
A Crime Branch enquiry has already been ordered into the tragedy and a more comprehensive investigation is expected to be announced by Kerala Cabinet later. An emergency relief of Rs 5,000 for the family of each victim has been announced by state government.
A three-day state mourning has been declared in view of the tragedy. Doctors and paramedical staff from the area had been mobilised in large numbers to Kumali and Vandiperiyar.
This is the worst disaster Kerala has seen in almost 60 years. Two tragedies that come close in comparison are the cracker hut fire in 1952 which led to the deaths of 66 people and then more recently in 1999, when 52 people died in a stampede in Pampa.