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India: Deadly stampede after 'landslide rumor'

  • Story Highlights
  • Officials: Stampede caused by rumors of landslide above pilgrims
  • Witnesses say railing broke, police hit fleeing worshippers with canes
  • Emergency rescue hampered by narrow road leading to temple
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NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- At least 133 people were killed in a stampede Sunday as panicked worshippers tried to flee a crowded mountaintop Hindu temple in northern India, officials said.

Bodies line a wall as police, worshippers and witnesses stand outside the Naina Devi Temple on Sunday.

Bodies line a wall as police, worshippers and witnesses stand outside the Naina Devi Temple on Sunday.

The stampede, which occurred on the second day of a nine-day religious festival at the Naina Devi Temple in Himachal Pradesh state, was triggered by a rumor of a landslide on the hill above the crowd, according to Deputy Police Commissioner C.P. Verma.

Along with the deaths, 40 people were injured, Punjab Health Minister Laxmi Kanta Chawla and police told a CNN-IBN reporter.

CNN-IBN is CNN's sister network in India.

The dead were taken to a hospital in neighboring Punjab state for autopsies, authorities said.

While some victims were crushed to death, others fell to their deaths when a railing along the narrow path to the temple broke under the weight of the throng of panicked worshippers, Verma said.

The situation was exacerbated by police who at one point hit the fleeing worshippers with canes to get them to continue moving, eyewitnesses said.

Verma said most of the wounded had been removed from the temple and taken to hospitals.

"We ask the public not to fall prey to rumors," said Verma.

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The temple was re-opened Monday and worshippers returned, Verma said.

The emergency rescue was hampered by the fact that a narrow road was one of the only ways to reach the temple, police said.

Rescue workers also used a cable car at the temple to help evacuate the injured from the mountaintop temple.

As the word spread about the deaths, large crowds of mourners and onlookers gathered at the base of the temple causing police to close a section of a road leading to the area.

Video footage of the scene showed onlookers crying as they watched police cover lines of dead women with colorful blankets. Map of Himachal Pradesh state »

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Sunday's incident is not the first stampede at a temple. In 2005, at least 258 people were killed during a stampede on a narrow road leading to a Hindu shrine in western India.

The chaos started when a few impatient devotees started to push through the 200,000 Hindu worshippers who were making their way uphill to the Mandhara Devi shrine, authorities said.

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