The annual Hindu festival in northern India ended in disaster after several people were killed in a stampede. At least 36 more people were injured, 23 of the dead were women, and about 30 million people were expected to participate.
It is one of the world’s largest religious gatherings as relatives searched for missing family members and others went to Allahabad’s main hospital.
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 Sunday at the Sangam — the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers — as part of the 55-day Kumbh Mela, or Pitcher Festival.
Sunday was one of the holiest days to bathe.
People 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 people 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 4 and when we started moving toward 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,” 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.
Medical superintendent Dr. P. Padmakar of the main state-run hospital said 23 of the 37 people killed were women.Indian railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said an inquiry has been ordered into what led to the stampede. He said the railway station had huge crowds of people wishing to return home after prayers on the river banks.
“There were just too many people on the platforms,” Bansal told reporters.
The crowds overran the station, and women, children and old people were pushed aside as people rushed toward the trains. Officials said train services were suspended after the stampede, leading to further crowding of the station.