The death toll from a fatal floor collapse at a Hindu temple in the central Indian city of Indore has reached 36, officials said on Friday.
The incident occurred on Thursday when worshippers gathered inside the Beleswar Mahadev Jhulelal temple for the Ram Navami festival. A floor collapsed under the weight of dozens of people, causing them to fall into an indoor stepwell.
“The major cause of deaths could be drowning because the well was 60 feet (18.3 meters) deep and there was much water in it,” Ilayaraja T., a top local official, told Reuters. He said the authorities believe 80 people were at the temple when the tragedy struck, and the search for survivors continues. He added that 16 were injured.
Stepwells were a staple of Indian architecture up to the 19th century. Ornate and multi-level wells are now among the country’s top tourist attractions.
A survivor told local media that the collapsed floor had not been reinforced by concrete and was made only with “stone slabs and iron rods.” According to the Hindustan Times, police have launched a criminal probe against two senior managers of the private trust that operates the temple, both of whom are at large.
NDTV reported that local authorities wanted to demolish the well’s roof in 2022 after residents claimed it had been built in violation of environmental regulations. The demolition was reportedly canceled after the trust argued that it would have “hurt religious sentiments.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday that he was “extremely pained” by the incident, and expressed condolences to the victims and their families.