Army soldiers and other responders found 35 bodies inside a well after a structure built over it collapsed as a large crowd of Hindu faithful prayed at a festival for the god Rama, a state government official said Friday.
Nearly 140 rescuers used ropes and ladders to pull out the bodies from the well after pumping out the water. A narrow path and debris in the well made the task difficult.
Dozens of people fell into the well in the temple complex in Indore in central Madhya Pradesh state when the structure collapsed Thursday and were covered by falling debris, police Commissioner Makrand Deoskar said.
Witnesses said a large crowd of devotees had thronged the temple to perform a fire ritual and celebrate the Hindu festival.
The structure apparently caved in because it could not handle the weight of the large crowd, said the state's top elected official, Shivraj Singh Chauhan. He ordered an investigation.
"We have so far recovered 35 bodies and the rescue operation is continuing," said Ilayaraja T., a district administrator, on Friday. A team of army rescuers joined the operation on Thursday night.
Chouhan said 18 people were rescued and hospitalized with injuries.
Temple authorities had stopped using the well years ago and covered it with the structure.
The Times of India newspaper said the rescue work was expedited on Thursday night after underwater cameras showed bodies floating in the muddy waters of the well.
The mouth of the well was covered using iron grills and tiles several years ago. Municipal authorities in January ordered temple owners to remove the covering of the well because it was an unsafe and unauthorized structure, but temple authorities ignored the warning, the newspaper said.
Building collapses are common in India because of poor construction and a failure to observe regulations.
In October, a century-old cable suspension bridge collapsed into a river in the western state of Gujarat, sending hundreds of people plunging into the water and killing at least 132 in one of the worst accidents in the country in the past decade.