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Stampede kills 36 people at India's Kumbh Mela festival

The stampede at a railway station in Allahabad marred the main day of the religious festival in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, considered the largest gathering of humanity.

An Indian woman weeps as she and other family members mourn next to the body of a relative who was killed in the stampede.
An Indian woman weeps as she and other family members mourn next to the body of a relative who was killed in the stampede.
Image: Kevin Frayer/AP/Press Association Images

A TERRIFYING STAMPEDE at a railway station has left at least 36 people dead after the main day of India’s Kumbh Mela religious festival, which drew record crowds of 30 million, officials have said.

Dozens more were injured in the crush yesterday evening at Allahabad, marking a tragic end to the most auspicious day of the 55-day Hindu festival in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the world’s largest gathering of humanity.

Local officials said the railings on a bridge at the station had given way under the pressure of the mass of people, while witnesses said that police had baton-charged the crowd, triggering panic.

Injured people were stretchered away on ambulances from Allahabad station, but relatives said emergency services took hours to reach the scene. At least 10 corpses wrapped in white sheets could be seen on a platform several hours later.

Among the victims was an eight-year-old girl called Muskaan whose distraught parents said she had died while waiting for help for nearly two hours.

“Our daughter still had a pulse. Had the doctors reached in time she would have been saved, but she died before our eyes,” Bedi Lal, the child’s father, told the NDTV news channel.

Amit Malviya, a spokesman for the northern and central railway, told AFP that 20 bodies had been identified and authorities were waiting for relatives to come forward to claim another 16.

Indian police carry the body of a pilgrim who was killed in the stampede (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

30 million people

Apart from Muskaan, the victims included 26 women and nine men. The oldest was a 75-year-old man, Malviya said.

Hindus believe a dip in the sacred waters of the river Ganges cleanses them of their sins. This year’s Mela is enormous even by previous standards, with astrologers saying a planetary alignment seen once every 147 years made it particularly auspicious.

Police had been stretched in controlling the vast crowds as they reached their peak on Sunday, with officials saying the numbers had passed the 30 million mark by the evening.

After the stampede, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement saying he was “deeply shocked” while the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh Yadav ordered an inquiry.

The Kumbh Mela, which began last month and ends in March, takes place every 12 years in Allahabad while smaller events are held every three years in other locations around India.

In 2003, 45 people died in a stampede during the festival in the western Indian town of Nasik. Crushes are a constant menace at religious events in India, where policing and crowd control are often inadequate.

© AFP 2013

Pics: Kumbh Mela festival gets underway in India

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