India temple stampede in Madhya Pradesh 'kills 91'

media captionEyewitness Atul Chaudhary: "We saw people jumping into the river"

Some 91 pilgrims, mostly women and children, have been killed in a stampede at a Hindu festival in central India, local officials have said.

Many were crushed after panic broke out on a bridge near the Ratangarh temple in Madhya Pradesh state. Others died when they jumped from the bridge.

Officials said the stampede may have been sparked by a rumour that the bridge was about to collapse.

Hundreds of thousands had gathered near the town of Datia for the festival.

Local devotee Atul Chaudhary, who survived the crush, told BBC Hindi there had been a couple of thousand people on the bridge.

He heard screams, and people began rushing to get off the bridge.

"Several people could be seen flattened to the ground in the midst of the melee," he said.

"Some of the youngsters panicked and jumped into the swollen river.

"I and my friends were close to the exit point and along with several others ran for safety. Scores of others were not so lucky."

The narrow bridge is about 500m long and had only recently been rebuilt following another stampede in 2007.

Deputy Police Inspector DK Arya said the death toll has risen to 91 and 10 others were in a critical condition.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed his condolences, saying: "On this day of festivities, our hearts and prayers are with the victims and their families."

Madhya Pradesh Health Minister Narottam Mishra said a judicial inquiry had been launched.

"Information from locals suggests that rumours of the bridge giving way could have led to the stampede," he said.

Other reports suggested that police sparked panic by using batons to control the crowd.

Officials said the dead included at least 42 women and 30 children.

Emergency crews and specialist divers have been scouring the river for bodies but paused the search at nightfall on Sunday.

Local official Sanket Bhondve said the immediate priority was to provide relief to the injured.

The accident happened at about 09:00 (03:30 GMT), but information was slow to emerge because the temple is in a remote area with erratic mobile-phone coverage.

Hindu festivals in India are notorious for deadly stampedes.

In the past year, dozens have died in three similar tragedies.

In 2011 more than 100 died at a festival in the southern state of Kerala.

Inside Jodhpur's Mehrangarh Fort, more than 220 people were killed in 2008 in a stampede at the Chamunda Devi Hindu temple.

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