At least seven pilgrims died and more than 150 others were injured when a thunderstorm hit the Simhastha Kumbh fair, bringing down a number of pandals, in Ujjain on Thursday.
Among the casualties was a woman struck by lightning.
Doctors on duty at the disaster cell however claimed the storm left at least 18 devotees dead. Divisional commissioner Ravindra Pastore told HT that the number of casualties could go up as many of the injured, undergoing treatment at different private and government hospitals, were in a critical state.
According to sources, around 10 lakh people were present in the fair area when the hot weather took a turn in the afternoon, bringing in heavy showers and high-velocity winds in its wake. Screams of devotees could be heard as domes of the camp structures gave way, with the storm weakening their base.
The police control room was flooded with reports of damage at several points following which rescue teams, comprising the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), home guards and police, were rushed to the spot, along with medical teams.
The 20-mm rainfall that continued for half-an-hour created hurdles in rescue work as temporary roads leading to different pandals turned into swamps.
Deaths at festivals
July 14, 2015: Stampede on banks of Godavari in Rajahmundry on opening day of Pushkaralu festival killed 27 pilgrims, including 13 women
Feb 11, 2013: 37 pilgrims killed while returning from Kumbh, many injured in a stampede at Allahabad railway station
Apr 14, 2010: Kumbh Mela stampede in Haridwar claimed seven lives, including five women and an infant, and injured 17 people
Aug 27, 2003: 39 pilgrims killed, 125 injured in a stampede at Kumbh Mela in Nasik, Maharashtra.