Ujjain, May 6 (IANS) It took only a few minutes for a severe weather outbreak to turn parts of this boisterous Madhya Pradesh city into a heap of death and destruction with a vast crowd of devotees and tourists at Simhasta Kumbh Mela watching helplessly.
As it poured heavily and winds blew at a high speed on Thursday evening, hundreds of temporary structures at the Kumbh site caved in with dozens of devotees buried within and hundreds more running for lives.
At least seven people were found dead and more than 100 injured near the banks of Kshipra river where authorities had claimed to have made “safe” arrangements to hold a mass of up to five crore people.
Thousands of tents were installed by government and private agencies to house visiting mystics, seers, devotees and tourists for the month-long Simhasta Kumbh, a Hindu religious festival, which occurs once every 12 years.
Till Thursday, before the tragedy hit the Undasa area, it looked like a new city has come up on the banks of the river in which a dip during the Kumbh is believed to cleanse one of all sins.
But on Friday, the scene was sombre and fear was palpable. The collapsed structures were being installed afresh but debris still lay strewn around.
Roads were inundated with clogged water and muddy water. This, many believe, is a greater cause of concern because the clogged water and mud may pollute the holy river that finds a mention in Hindu scriptures. Thousands only visit the festival to bathe in the river and get blessings.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan visited the damaged areas on Friday and ordered releif and rehabilation measures on a war-footing.
“We should not lose courage but rise to the challenge,” Chouhan told officers who accompanied him. He also ordered installation of booster pumps to clear the blocked roads and drains of water and mud.
The authorities said that at least 700 temporary structures have fallen or have been blown away.
The injured, being treated in hospitals, narrated the tale of horror they witnessed on Thursday evening.
“It is only by the grace of the Almighty that we are alive,” said a wounded man, who didn’t give his name.
A woman, wounded on her head, said she was inside one of the tents when it collapsed. She said she along with others got buried under. She escaped with a serious injury but didn’t know about the fate of others in the tent.
The chief minister announced Rs.5 lakh for the families of each of the dead. Those with serious injuries will get Rs.50,000 each.