Horror as 12 people crushed to death and 17 injured in New Year's Eve stampede at shrine in India

AT least 12 people have been crushed to death in a New Year's Eve stampede at a hilltop shrine in India.

Another 17 were left injured in the horror incident at the famous Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Katra.

The tragedy unfolded at around 2.30am as people gathered to celebrate New Year's Eve.

According to local reports, an argument broke out as the huge crowds got out of control, triggering a stampede.

Shocking video footage from the chaotic scene shows panicked worshippers scrambling to escape the crush and several men clinging onto scaffolding as the crowd swells below them.

As the situation spiralled out of control, cops desperately tried to evacuate people and help those who had been wounded.

Authorities said at least 12 people were killed in the stampede, while more than a dozen were rushed to hospital – some with "serious" injuries.

A government official warned the death toll could increase "as the route to the hilltop shrine was packed with devotees".

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Gopal Dutt, block medical officer of Community Health Centre, said the wounded were transported to Naraina Hospital after the rescue operation.

Officials said the bodies of the victims, said to be from Delhi, Haryana, and Punjab, were taken to a hospital in the Katra base camp for identification.

Dilbag Singh, Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police, said there appeared to have been a "minor altercation" between a group of young boys before the stampede.

According to India TV News, he said: "Police and officials of the civil administration were quick to respond, and the order within the crowd was immediately restored, but by that time, the damage had been done."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "extremely saddened" by the horror.

He said: "Extremely saddened by the loss of lives due to a stampede at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan. Condolences to the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon."

Mr Modi also said the families of the victims and those injured in the stampede would be given compensation from the Prime Minister National Relief Fund.

According to India TV News, eight of the victims have been identified as Dheeraj Kumar 26, Sheweta Singh, 35, Viney Kumar, 24, Sonu Pandey, 24, Mamta, 38, Dharmveer Singh, 35, Vaneet Kumar, 38, and Arun Pratap Singh, 30. 

President Ram Nath Kovind said he was "very distressed to know that an unfortunate stampede claimed lives of devotees at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhavan"

He said: "My heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families. I wish speedy recovery to those injured."

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi added: "The stampede at Mata Vaishno Devi temple is tragic. I extend my condolences to the families of the deceased."

An investigation is now underway by the shrine board representatives and senior officials.

One pilgrim told The Sun Online: "It's the mismanagement that has led to this very unfortunate incident. I hope it doesn't happen again."

Millions of people flock to the famous hilltop shrine, located at an altitude of 5,200ft and about 50km from Jammu, every year.

On New Year's Eve, worshippers usually trek 13km from the Katra base camp, while some get there by helicopter.

The celebrations were briefly halted after the stampede, but reportedly resumed a short time later.

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