Chennai, May 28: A joyride turned a death ride for at least 11 people when a giant wheel, put up near the venue of a temple festival in Karur in Tamil Nadu, came crashing down last night.
Over 26 people were seriously injured as the 150-foot giant wheel collapsed due to sudden rains accompanied by heavy gusty winds.
Many of the injured have been admitted to the Karur government hospital. The dead include four men, four women and three children, official sources at the district headquarters said.
In Chennai, chief minister Jayalalithaa ordered a payment of Rs 50,000 as ex-gratia to the family of each of the deceased, besides Rs 15,000 to each of the seriously wounded.
The occasion was the annual Mariammam temple festival on the banks of the Amravati, a tributary of the Cauvery. It is witnessed by thousands of people every year.
Today being the last day of the festival that started on May 11 and will culminate in the floating of timber in the river as a symbolic tribute to the Goddess, the pilgrimsí turnout was exceptionally heavy yesterday.
Sources said during such long temple festivities, it is customary to set up temporary entertainment parks close to the venue to enable pilgrims, particularly children, to relax. A small zoo, magic shows and balloon shooting are also part of the entertainment. This particular giant wheel had been taken on lease from a group in Bihar, sources said.
Studded with brightly-illuminated electric bulbs, the wheel, which can accommodate 90 people at a time in 30 compartments of three each, was on its huge vertical course around 7 pm.
As strong winds rattled it ferociously, shocking its occupants and onlookers alike, sources said, the wheel looked like a huge tree being violently shaken by winds. With everyone momentarily dumb-founded, the generator-driven giant wheel was soon brought to a halt even as its occupants cried for help.
But before it could be completely immobilised, amid some of the riders trying to jump out as some compartments touched ground level, the wheel came crashing down by the sheer force of the whirlwind, sources said.
Several occupants were thrown out in the process and many onlookers and pilgrims in the vicinity of the wheel were crushed to death under its weight.
On hearing the cries of the trapped, police and fire services personnel rushed to the spot and started rescue operations.