|A woman cries on January 10, after a bus accident involving pilgrims to the Sabarimala Shrine in the south-western Indian state of Kerala|
KOCHI, India – A stampede of pilgrims returning from one of India's most popular Hindu festivals killed at least 102 people and injured 44 others, police said Saturday.
The stampede was set off Friday night when a group of pilgrims in a jeep drove into a crowd of worshippers walking along a narrow forest path as they returned from offering prayers at the hilltop Sabarimala shrine in the state of Kerala in southern India, said local police official Sanjay Kumar.
All the injured were hospitalized, some in serious condition, Kumar told The Associated Press.
"We have recovered 102 bodies. The rescue work is almost over," he said.
The area was flooded with pilgrims and the stampede occurred nearly 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of the temple site, Kumar said.
The annual two-month festival attracts millions of worshippers to the remote temple to the Hindu deity Ayyappan. The ceremony Friday marked the end of the festival, and an estimated 150,000 devotees were thought to have taken the narrow path out of the densely forested hills where the stampede took place, the Press Trust of India reported.
Millions of devotees make the pilgrimage each year and nearly 2,000 police officers were deployed near the shrine to prevent such accidents from happening, PTI reported. A small stampede last week killed one pilgrim, it said.
The difficulty in reaching the stampede site delayed relief operations, PTI reported.
Deadly stampedes are relatively common at temples in India, where large crowds — sometimes hundreds of thousands of people — gather in tiny areas with no safety measures or crowd control.
In March, 63 people were killed when poor villagers scrambled for free food and clothing being given away at a ceremony at a temple in northern Uttar Pradesh state. In 2008, more than 145 people died in a stampede at a remote Hindu temple at the foothills of the Himalayas.By ANNA MATHEWS, Associated Press