42 die in Chennai stampede
Chennai, December 18
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa visited the injured in hospitals. She ordered a probe into the incident and announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh to the next of kin of every deceased and Rs 15, 000 to each injured.
The commission of inquiry will be headed by a retired Madras High Court judge.
Eyewitnesses said the stampede took place around 4.30 am when around 4,000 persons, who had assembled in front of a school at MGR Nagar here, rushed into the school compound. Two things happened simultaneously — the people saw a van carrying four police constables arrive and there was a heavy downpour.
Though coupon distribution was to begin at 7.30 am, the crowd thought the constables, who were supposed to manage queues, had arrived for coupon distribution. To take shelter from the torrential rain that had just began was another reason behind the incident.
The crowd broke the security barrier and stormed the school compound. The lock of the gate snapped and the large iron gate burst open.
Those in the front, mostly women who had been gathering at the spot since 3 am, fell down and were run over. Fortytwo persons died on the spot.
Senior police officials and large number of policemen and relief department workers rushed to the spot and rescue operation was launched. The bodies were taken to the Government General Hospital. The injured were shifted to Royapettah General Hospital and the Government General Hospital.
Eight among the injured are said to be in a critical condition.
Empty bags and large number of slippers were strewn near the school gate.
Wailing family members of the deceased and those injured in the incident expressed anger as this happened to be the second stampede in the city at flood relief centres within the past two months since the state had been flooded due to heavy rains.
On November 6, six women had died and 15 persons were injured in a similar stampede in northern part of the city following rumours a day before that only a handful of relief coupons were left.
Ms Jayalalithaa, who visited the survivors at hospitals within a few hours, said, “I have spoken to the survivors and asked them since coupon distribution was to begin at 7.30 am why they had assembled so early in the morning. They told me that they had heard that very few coupons were left.”
She said Saturday and Sunday were the two days for coupon distribution in the area and out of a total of 8,500 coupons, 4,500 were to be distributed today. The flood victims were to get four coupons each — one for Rs 2,000 cash, another for rice and the rest two for clothes and kerosene, respectively.
The DMK has demanded the Chief Minister’s resignation alleging that she was “personally responsible for the tragedy since she, because of her arrogance, refused to appoint all-party committees to oversee relief operations”.