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Search for missing relatives, as Kumbh stampede claims 36 lives

February 10, 2013

Indian police carry the body of a pilgrim who was killed in a stampede on a railway platform at the main railway station in Allahabad. -AP Photo
Indian police carry the body of a pilgrim who was killed in a stampede on a railway platform at the main railway station in Allahabad. -AP Photo

ALLAHABAD:Anxious relatives were searching for missing family members Monday in a northern Indian city unsure if their loved ones were caught in a stampede that so far claimed 36 lives, injuring 30 others, on Sunday.

People thronged to the main hospital in Allahabad, to look for their relatives who went missing after 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.

Being one of the holiest days to bathe, an estimated 30 million Hindus took a dip Sunday at the Sangam - the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the Saraswati rivers - as part of the 55-day Kumbh Mela, or Pitcher Festival.

On Sunday, like most other days, volunteers and officials used loudspeakers to give details of children and elderly 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 36 people killed were women.    India's railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said an inquiry has been ordered into what led to the stampede.

Indian television stations showed large crowds pushing and jostling at the train station as policemen struggled to restore order.    ''There was complete chaos. There was no doctor or ambulance for at least two hours after the accident,'' an eyewitness told NDTV news channel.

According to Hindu mythology, the Kumbh Mela celebrates the victory of gods over demons in a furious battle over nectar that would give them immortality. As one of the gods fled with a pitcher of the nectar across the skies, it spilled on four Indian towns: Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar.

The Kumbh Mela is held four times every 12 years in those towns. Hindus believe that sins accumulated in past and current lives require them to continue the cycle of death and rebirth until they are cleansed. Believers say bathing at the Ganges on the most auspicious day of the festival, can rid themselves of their sins.