High population density, lack of exits and slippery mud contributed to the deadly stampede in India.

07-03-2024 10:32:02

LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Massive crowding and a lack of exits, among other factors, contributed to a deadly stampede at a religious festival in northern India that left at least 121 people dead, officials said.

Five more people died on Wednesday morning, said Manish Chaudhry, a local official, and 28 others remained hospitalized.

The stampede occurred Tuesday afternoon in a town in Uttar Pradesh state's Hathras district as people rushed out of makeshift tents. It was not immediately clear what sparked the panic.

Authorities are investigating what happened and have begun searching for a Hindu guru known locally as Bhole Baba, as well as other organizers.

Deadly stampedes are relatively common during religious festivals in India, which bring large crowds into small spaces with poor infrastructure and few safety measures.

Overcrowding, poor planning, and bad weather were some of the factors that contributed to the tragedy.

About 250,000 people attended the event with a permitted capacity of 80,000, which was held under tents set up on a muddy field. It was unclear how many people managed to enter the tents.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath told reporters that a crowd of devotees rushed towards the priest to touch him as he left the stage, causing chaos as volunteers tried to 'intervene.'

Initial police reports indicate that thousands of people were heading for the exits at the time and many slipped on mud on the ground, causing them to fall and be crushed by the crowd. The majority of those killed were women.

The preacher's organization, Sri Jagar Guru Baba, has spent more than two weeks preparing for the event.

Pilgrims from across the state, which has a population of more than 200 million and is India's most populous, flocked to the city, where queues of parked vehicles stretched three kilometres.

Experts said the move violated safety regulations. “The event was held under a makeshift tent with no guarantee of multiple exits. Usually, there are eight to 10 marked exits to an open area,” said Sanjay Srivastava, a disaster management expert.

Instead, authorities noted that it appeared the tent had only a small exit.

Sonu Kumar, one of several locals who helped lift and carry the bodies after the accident, criticized the guru: “He sat in his car and drove off. And his followers threw themselves at each other, some into the water.

“The screams were heartbreaking. We have never seen anything like this in our village,” Kumar added.

Binod Sokhna, who lost his mother, daughter and wife in the tragedy, cried as he left the morgue on Wednesday.

“My son called me and said, ‘Dad, mom is gone.’ Come here immediately. “My wife is no longer here,” he said, crying.

In 2013, pilgrims visiting a temple during a popular Hindu festival in Madhya Pradesh, a central state, stood for fear that a bridge would collapse. At least 115 people were crushed or killed in the river.

In 2011, more than 100 Hindus were massacred during a religious festival in the South Indian state of Kerala.

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