New Delhi, India CNN —
At least 35 people were killed Thursday after falling into a stepwell at a Hindu temple in central India after its floor covering collapsed, according to local officials.
The incident happened at the Shri Beleshwar Mahadev Jhulelal Temple in the city of Indore, in Madhya Pradesh state. The stepwell’s covering had collapsed “due to the heavy load” on top, according to the state’s chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra initially said Thursday that 19 people had been rescued from the stepwell, though two later died. Water was being pumped out of the stepwell to help rescue efforts, he added. Stepwells are large wells or reservoirs with steps that descend to the water level.
Later that evening, senior district official Ilayaraja T told reporters they had recovered 35 bodies, with one person still missing and 16 injured.
“There is a lot of silt. Once we do the de-silting, we will do another round of searches,” he said. The army, as well as federal and state disaster response teams, are involved in the rescue.
“Despite all efforts, we could not save many lives,” said Chouhan, adding that he had ordered an investigation into the incident.
Videos and images of the rescue operation show a large, gaping hole in the ground under the temple, with people climbing up a ladder to the surface and authorities feeding ropes down. A metal wiring structure can be seen hanging off the edge, appearing to have given way; outside, anxious crowds gathered outside the temple, with authorities carrying out the injured on stretchers.
Thursday was Rama Navami, a Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Lord Ram, often marked by devotees visiting temples and performing religious chants or songs.
Photos from the Indore temple show items scattered on the floor near the hole, including candles, offerings and sweets.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences to the victims and their families on Thursday, tweeting that he was “extremely pained” by the incident. “The State Government is spearheading rescue and relief work at a quick pace,” he said.
The injured and families of the dead will receive compensation from the government, Chouhan said.