Officials said authorities responded quickly, order in the crowd was restored, and the pilgrimage resumed after nearly four hours of tragedy early in the morning.
Rescue teams evacuated the wounded to various hospitals. Nine of them at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Narayana Superspecialty Hospital, Kakryal, were discharged during the day while the rest are under treatment and their condition is said to be stable.
Of the 12 dead, the identities of four people were not known prior to the filing of this report. “The deceased were identified as Dheeraj Kumar, 26, of Nowshera in J & K’s Rajouri; Sheweta Singh, 35, from Ghaziabad, UP; inhabitants of Delhi Vinay Kumar and Sonu Pandey, both 24; Mamta, 38, of Jhajjar, Haryana; Dharamvir Singh, 35, from Saharanpur, UP; Vaneet Singh, 38, also from Saharanpur; and Arun Pratap from Gorakhpur, UP, ”said a spokesman for the shrine board.
Two bodies were sent by plane and nine by road to their hometown, while one will be lifted Sunday morning from Jammu.
The spokesman for the shrine board said Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has announced an immediate ex gratia of Rs 10 lakh for families of the dead and Rs 2 lakh for the wounded. “The processing costs are borne by the board.” The board can be contacted on 01991234804 and 01991234053 for assistance.
The Lt Governor, who chairs the board of Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine, ordered a high-level investigation into the storm surge, which officials said took place after a rush of devotees coming in and out of the temple met near the narrow gate, which led to a suffocating infatuation as people tried to get away from the place. According to eyewitnesses, several men and women fell and people walked over to them to escape the melee.
Most of the pilgrims have walked 12 km through a steep, winding mountain hike from the base camp Katra, a small town 50 km from Jammu, early on Saturday to pray at the shrine. Officials said it was a huge rush as it was New Year’s Day and more like the train connection to Every resumed recently after its suspension due to farmers’ protests in Punjab. A shrine board official said 35,000 pilgrims were allowed to continue for yatra on December 31 and January 1, relative to the National Green Tribunal’s ceiling of 50,000 a day, in view of the pandemic.
Pilgrims are allowed in a lane inside the cave and there is a constant flow to avoid overcrowding. “But people probably stayed a little too long at the temple and filled the room. As more pilgrims entered, the place became congested and it was urgent to get out. That chaos quickly turned into tragedy, “said an eyewitness.
Chairman Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi led a shocked nation to condole the families of the dead and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded. “Extremely saddened by the loss of human life …” Modi wrote on Twitter, announcing a compensation package. PMO Junior Minister Jitendra Singh hurried to Katra to take stock of the situation. UP-CM Yogi Adityanath and his Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal expressed grief over the tragedy.