Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

36 killed in India station stampede

Women grieve the death of their family members after a stampede at a railway station in Allahabad (AP)

Anxious relatives have been searching for missing family members in a northern India city that is home to one of the world's largest religious gatherings after a stampede killed 36 people.

People thronged to the main hospital in Allahabad to see if their relatives were among the 36 dead and 30 people injured in Sunday evening's stampede at the city's train station.

Tens of thousands of people were in the station waiting to board a train when railway officials announced a last-minute change in the platform, triggering the chaos.

An estimated 30 million Hindus took a dip on Sunday at the Sangam - the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the Saraswati rivers - as part of the 55-day Kumbh Mela, or Pitcher Festival. Sunday was one of the holiest days to bathe.

People going missing at the Kumbh Mela is the stuff of legend in India and at least a dozen films have been made on the theme. On Sunday, like most other days, volunteers and officials used loudspeakers to give details of children and elderly who were "found" on the river banks, having lost their families in the crowd.

It was unclear how many people were actually missing because of the stampede. Witnesses blamed police action for the stampede.

"We heard an announcement that our train is coming on platform number four and when we started moving towards that platform through a footbridge, we were stopped. Then suddenly the police charged us with batons and the stampede started," passenger Shushanto Kumar Sen said.

"People started tumbling over one another and within no time I saw people, particularly women and children, being trampled over by others," Mr Sen said.

Police denied they had used batons to control the crowd. "It was simply a case of overcrowding. People were in a hurry to go back and there were not enough arrangements by the railway authorities," said Arun Kumar, a senior police officer.

India's railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said an inquiry has been ordered into what led to the stampede. Indian television stations showed large crowds pushing and jostling at the train station as policemen struggled to restore order.

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