85 Hindu pilgrims killed in India lorry crash

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

A minimum of 85 Hindu pilgrims have been killed in India and 64 injured after their lorry and trailer plunged 24m (80ft) into a river gorge late last night.

Approximately 150 people were on board when the driver lost control on a sharp bend near the village of Nagbavji, Rajasthan, smashing through a concrete crash barrier and continuing down into the valley, coming to rest inverted.

An overnight rescue operation was initiated, removing both survivors and bodies of the dead from the wreck, with the aid of cranes and spotlights. Ambulances and medical teams rushed to the scene from surrounding areas. Of the 64 who were hospitalised, three are reported to be in critical condition. The Press Trust of India reported that as many as 130 were injured, and Al Jazeera reported that there may have been 200 people on board. It is believed the death toll could rise still further, as many people remain trapped beneath the trailer.

The truck was a 12-wheeled model designed for hauling shipping containers, and was carrying pilgrims from three nearby villages Shiwal, Madri and Bhawa. The driver had offered to take them to their destination for free, a practise common in India, despite the fact that such trucks are not safe for passenger transport, being designed primarily as freight transporters.

The vehicle had been destined for the temple of Ramdev, a site considered by both Hindus and Muslims as being of high spiritual significance. The temple is the subject of an annual ten-day pilgrimage every September, which begins on September 13, although most of the 250,000 pilgrims who flock to the site arrive several days in advance of the festival.

The Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje visited the three villages in which the victims resided. The local government has initiated a full inquiry into the disaster.


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