The Kumbh Mela, a major Indian pilgrimage happening in Allahabad this year that sees tens of millions of Hindus taking a spiritual dip into the Ganges River, was beset by tragedy when at least 30 pilgrims died as a rush of devotees eager to board trains home Sunday evening overwhelmed a footbridge, snapping a side rail and sending people plummeting on top of each other.
At least 20 others were injured, and authorities said they expected to find more fatalities. Many of the dead were elderly and children.
About 150,000 of the estimated 30 million pilgrims that were in the city for the day had converged on the city’s train station, which was lightly staffed as it usually is on a typical Sunday. Local media outlets reported about 6,000 people were on the bridge when it gave way to the crush.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went on national television expressing condolences and offering 500,000 rupees (about $9,332) compensation to the next of kin.
The accident was exacerbated by the railway station’s lack of additional crowd-control measures that could have been anticipated.
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"There was none to hear our grievance, and aged people and children were the worst hit," Gayatri, a resident of the town of Banda in the state of Bihar, told the Times of India. "We kept urging [the Government Railway Police] and railway authorities for help, but none came." Railway authorities restricted entry of passengers at Allahabad Junction after the stampede.
Allahabad’s population is typically about 1.2 million, but once every 12 years it hosts a massive number of Hindus for the triennial spiritual-cleansing ritual. The Khumbh Mela occurs every three years in one of four cities on the sacred Ganges, which means Allahabad hosts this ritual only once every 12 years.
Much like the annual Islamic Haj that occurs in western Saudi Arabia, which hosts between 2 million and 3 million pilgriams every year, the Kumbh Mela is heavily policed and monitored for public-safety and crowd-control purposes. However, the Allahabad train station was apparently not included in the logistical planning.