At least 35 people have died after the floor of a Hindu temple collapsed in Indore, central India, plunging them into a well.
It has emerged that the floor which covered the stepwell – a stair-lined communal water source – consisted only of tiles laid over a metal grille.
An investigation had been launched into the tragedy and the families of the dead people would be compensated, Narottam Mishra, the home minister of Madhya Pradesh state said.
A large number of devotees, mainly women and children, were present at the temple on Thursday for the Hindu festival of Ram Navami. Police said the flimsy floor gave way under their weight. The well had about 25 feet (7.6 metres) of water in it when they fell.
Television footage showed emergency workers using ropes and ladders to reach those trapped. Other videos showed the caved-in floor and mangled steel bars, and police using ropes to seal the area.
“I saw some people falling with their hands still folded in prayer, looking bewildered,” said an eyewitness who survived because she was standing in a corner.
Officials say rescue operations are continuing.
“We have a large team of rescuers, supplemented by army personnel,” Indore commissioner Pawan Sharma said. “We have managed to rescue 18 people who are in hospital.”
The Times of India has reported seeing documents showing that the Indore municipal authority ordered the removal of the makeshift floor in January because it was dangerous but backed down when local Hindus protested.
A similar tragedy occurred last November in Gujarat, western India, when 135 people – mostly women and children – fell to their deaths in the Morbi River below.