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New Year stampede kills 12 in India

KATRA/SRINAGAR, (AFP) – Twelve people were crushed to death in a stampede at an Indian shrine yesterday as tens of thousands of pilgrims massed, officials said.

The disaster unfolded in darkness at around 3am on the packed route to the Vaishno Devi shrine in Kashmir, visited by millions every year.

“People fell over each other… It was difficult to figure out whose leg or arms were tangled with whose,” survivor Ravinder told AFP by phone.

“I helped pick up eight bodies by the time ambulances arrived after about half an hour. I feel lucky to be alive but am still shaking with memory of what I saw,” he said.

Video footage showed terrified pilgrims clinging onto metal rafters to escape the rush and the blue lights of small minivan ambulances flashing in the darkness as they tried to rush to hospitals through huge crowds.

Officials sought to blame an alleged altercation between two groups of youth and a rush of people for New Year’s Day. “Police and officials… were quick to respond (after the altercation), and the order within the crowd was immediately restored,” local police chief Dilbag Singh told the Press Trust of India news agency.

“But by that time, the damage had been done,” he said.

But witnesses said that the authorities were badly organised, something denied by the shrine’s management.

Around a dozen people were also injured.

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