PURI:As a million devotees converged to witness the Nabakalebara Rath Yatra in Puri, tragedy struck the otherwise smooth festival when five persons were killed in separate incidents, including two women in minor stampedes on the Grand Road, on Saturday afternoon.
The stampedes occurred during the pulling of chariot of Lord Balabhadra. With the chariot moving forward and gaining speed, the crowd standing outside the outer security cordon fanned out and started to push and shove each other, leading to chaos.
The first incident was reported near Marchikot while the other at Hindi School Square, claiming two victims and leaving more than 10 injured. While the deceased are yet to be identified, both are past their middle-age. The injured are receiving treatment at district hospital while two have been shifted to SCB Medical College and Hospital at Cuttack as their condition worsened.
Director General of Police Sanjiv Marik, however, said one of the women in her 60’s bore no physical injury and may have succumbed to extreme exhaustion. The other woman of around 50 years of age is believed to have been pushed in the rush which led to fatal head injuries.
“We are ascertaining the exact cause of the deaths. The two incidents though were unconnected and cannot be termed as stampede,” the DGP said.
Abhilash Bal, a member of the AG Ambulance Division of St John’s Ambulance, spotted the 60-odd-year old woman and rushed her to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.
Meanwhile, two other devotees died after falling from a running train and a third drowned in the sea taking the death toll during the Rath Yatra to five till reports last came in. The drowned man has been identified as Sunanda Rout (45) from Keonjhar.
About five persons who had climbed a roof of a building on the Grand Road to witness the chariot pulling fell to the ground and suffered injuries.
The hot and humid conditions also took toll on the multitude as devotees in large number had to be shifted to hospitals for treatment. More than 800 pilgrims have been admitted to hospitals after falling sick due to exhaustion, Marik said.
Purushottam Bal, a member of the St John’s Ambulance service, said the district headquarters hospital was full as the number of sunstroke-hit swelled by the hour. The ayurvedic hospital and a third health facility received more and more number of affected persons during the day.