NEW DELHI (AP) — Thirty-six bodies have been found inside a well at a Hindu temple in central India after dozens of people attending a festival fell into the muddy water when its cover collapsed, officials said Friday.
Video of Thursday’s collapse at the temple complex in Indore in Madhya Pradesh state showed chaos afterward, with people rushing away. An excavator pulled down a wall of the decades-old temple to help people flee.
Nearly 140 rescuers, including army personnel, used ropes and ladders to pull the bodies from the well after pumping out the water. A narrow path and debris in the well made the task difficult.
“We have recovered 36 bodies and everybody is accounted for now,” Pawan Kumar Sharma, commissioner of the local municipal corporation, told The Associated Press.
The secretary of the temple board was among the dead and the president is recovering from injuries, Sharma said.
Police brought a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, but no arrests have been made so far, he said.
Witnesses said a large crowd of devotees had thronged the temple to perform a fire ritual and celebrate the festival for the deity Rama.
Dozens of people fell into the water when the structure collapsed and were covered by falling debris, police Commissioner Makrand Deoskar said.
Kantibhai Patel, president of a residents’ association, told reporters that authorities were slow to react and the first ambulance reached the spot an hour after the alert.
The structure apparently caved in because it could not handle the weight of the large crowd, said the state’s top elected official, Shivraj Singh Chauhan. He ordered an investigation.
A team of army rescuers joined the operation on Thursday night. The Times of India newspaper reported the rescue work was expedited after underwater cameras showed bodies floating in the muddy waters of the well.
Chauhan said 33 of the bodies had been identified. Sixteen of the people who were injured remained hospitalized Friday.
Sobbing relatives claimed the bodies of the victims and visited the hospital where the injured were being treated.
Temple authorities had stopped using the well years ago and covered the mouth with iron grills and tiles.
Municipal authorities in January ordered the temple owners to remove the covering of the well because it was an unsafe and unauthorized structure, but temple authorities ignored the warning, the newspaper said.
Building collapses are common in India because of poor construction and a failure to observe regulations.
In October, a century-old cable suspension bridge collapsed into a river in the western state of Gujarat, sending hundreds of people plunging into the water and killing at least 132 in one of the worst accidents in the country in the past decade.