At least seven pilgrims from Punjab were killed and many others injured after a landslide hit Gurdwara Manikaran Sahib in Kullu district on Tuesday afternoon.
A huge boulder came crashing down on the gurdwara situated on the banks of Parvati river, burying several people alive. At least 15 pilgrims were injured in the incident.
"There was a heavy rush of pilgrims at the gurdwara and its surrounding areas when the landslide occurred," said sarpanch of nearby Gadagi village Thakur Chand.
According to sources, the boulder hit the langar hall (community kitchen) and serai (accommodation) of the gurdwara. A multi-storey building near the river bank was also damaged.
According to the Manikaran Gurdwara Prabandhak committee member Harvinder Singh Bakshi, there were around 40 people inside the building at the time of the incident. "While some of them were buried alive, others managed to escape," he said. "A huge boulder plunged into the river after damaging the building. So, there is a possibility that some bodies may have been swept away with the debris," added Bakshi.
Kullu deputy commissioner Rakesh Kanwar said seven bodies had been extricated so far and rescue operation was on in full swing. "We have cleared the spot and the search operation is on. The injured have been admitted to the regional hospital in Kullu," he said. More than 300 NDRF SSB, ITBP, Home Guard, fire and police personnel are engaged in the rescue operation.
The deceased have been identified as Yadvinder Singh, Lakhvinder Singh, Soni Ram, Gurdeep Singh, Gopal Singh, Raghuvir Singh and Kaka Singh. They all belong to Rogla Tarwa Mandi village in Punjab's Sangrur district.
According to Sarita Sharma, medical superintendent of regional hospital in Kullu, of the 11 injured admitted to the hospital, two have been referred to Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh.The eight injured from Sangrur's Rogla Tarwa Mandi village have been identified as Nikka Ram, 35, Tarsem Chand, 35, Mithu Singh, 35, Avtar, 23, Gurvinder, 38, Lokraj, 32, Papender Jit Singh, 21, Harmesh Singh, Ravinder Singh and Harjinder Singh and Hans Raj, 33.
Kullu sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Rohit Rathore, who was on the spot, said: "We are looking for bodies in the rubble."
The police have restricted traffic movement to Manikaran Sahib so that relief and rescue operations are not hampered. The site has been cordoned off fearing more rock slips from the hilltop.
Sikh pilgrims from Punjab and other states visit the shrine every year during summer. Himachal Pradesh governor Acharya Devvrat and chief minister Virbhadra Singh have mourned the death of pilgrims. The CM directed the district administration to provide immediate relief to the next of the kin of the deceased and those injured.
The gurdwara is built near the river side and water of Parvati river touches the base pillars of the building. The gurdwara authorities, however, maintained there was nothing wrong with the construction. "The gurdwara committee has not violated any norms. It's an ancient place and several people have faith in it," said Gurdwara committee member Bakshi.
"So far, we have received no report that says that the building is illegal," said the Kullu DC.