37 dead in stampede at Hindu festival in India

ALLAHABAD, India (AP) — Anxious relatives searched for missing family members in northern India on Monday during one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, unsure if their loved ones were caught in a stampede that killed 37 people or had simply gotten lost among the tens of millions of pilgrims.

People thronged to the main hospital in Allahabad to see if their relatives were among 37 dead and 39 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 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 missing because of the stampede.

On Monday, state government officials and railway authorities told reporters that they had taken all precautions to prevent just such a tragedy.

Stampedes are common during religious festivities in India. During the Kumbh festival, platoons of policemen patrol the specially marked bathing areas to prevent crowding along the river banks in Allahabad.

Witnesses blamed police action for the stampede.

“We heard an announcement that our train is coming on platform No. 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.

Volunteers used stretchers to carry the injured to private vehicles which then ferried them to the hospital.

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