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HINDU PILGRIMS DROWN AS DAM RELEASES WATER

At least 58 Hindu pilgrims bathing in a central India river during a religious festival drowned when the gates of a nearby dam were opened, police said Monday.

S.K. Raut, a local police official, said some of the bodies were recovered nearly five miles from the bathing site.

Nearly 100,000 Hindus had assembled Saturday night for an annual bathing festival, known as the "Bhootdi Aamavasya" -- or "Moonless Night," along the banks of the Narmada River in the town of Dharaji. Hindu religious rituals often include bathing in rivers considered holy.

But while the pilgrims were bathing, water was released through a dam about 15 miles away, police said.

"We were not alerted by the state administration about the presence of so many pilgrims in the area," said S.K. Dodeja, managing director of the state-run Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corp., which runs the newly built dam.

The release of the water was stopped about two hours later, he said. The area is 185 miles west of Bhopal, capital of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

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