A stampede has led to at least 12 pilgrims being crushed to death and more than a dozen injured at a Hindu shrine where thousands of people had gathered to celebrate the New Year.
Footage on social media shows a vast crowd packed in at the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Kashmir, India, and pilgrims desperately being carried out for medical treatment.
Twelve pilgrims died and 14 were injured in a stampede in the early morning today at Mata Vaishno Devi shrine,” said senior police officer, Mukesh Singh.
All of the injured have been hospitalized, he added.
The stampede broke out when a huge crowd of devotees, who had come to mark the beginning of the New Year, entered the Vaishno Devi Bhawan shrine, another official said.
“Mahesh” said the stampede began close to one of the gates to the shrine.
“Something happened near one of the gates and I found myself under a crush of people. I suffocated and fell but somehow managed to stand up,” he told ABC News.
“I saw people moving over the bodies. It was a horrifying sight, but I managed to help in rescuing some injured people.”
Another pilgrim called Priyansh said he and 10 friends from New Delhi went to the shrine on Friday night and that two of them were killed.
“I have never seen anything like this,” he reportedly said.
“Extremely saddened by the loss of lives due to a stampede at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a condolence message.
An official said that a high level inquiry has been ordered.
Stampedes are tragically not uncommon at Indian religious festivals due to the large number of people attending and packed into small areas.
There were at least 115 killed in 2013 when pilgrims visited a Hindu festival in India’s central Madhya Pradesh state and a stampede caused people to be crushed or drowned in a river.