Death toll climbs to 116 in religious gathering stampede in India

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Thousands of people at a religious gathering in India rushed to leave a makeshift tent, setting off a stampede Tuesday that killed more than 100 and left scores injured, officials said.

It was not immediately clear what triggered the panic following an event with a Hindu guru known locally as Bhole Baba. Local news reports cited authorities who said heat and suffocation in the tent could have been a factor. Video of the aftermath showed the structure appeared to have collapsed.

At least 116 people died, most of them women and children, said Prashant Kumar, the director-general of police in northern India’s state of Uttar Pradesh, where the stampede occurred.

AT LEAST 60 DEAD AFTER STAMPEDE AT RELIGIOUS GATHERING IN NORTHERN INDIA

More than 80 others were injured and admitted to hospitals, senior police officer Shalabh Mathur said.

“People started falling one upon another, one upon another. Those who were crushed died. People there pulled them out,” witness Shakuntala Devi told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Relatives wailed in distress as bodies of the dead, placed on stretchers and covered in white sheets, lined the grounds of a local hospital. A bus that arrived there carried more victims, whose bodies were lying on the seats inside.

Deadly stampedes are relatively common around Indian religious festivals, where large crowds gather in small areas with shoddy infrastructure and few safety measures.

Police officer Rajesh Singh said there was likely overcrowding at the event in a village in Hathras district about 220 miles southwest of the state capital, Lucknow.

People mourn next to the bodies of their relatives outside the Sikandrarao hospital in Hathras district about 217 miles southwest of Lucknow, India, Tuesday, July 2, 2024. A stampede among thousands of people at a religious gathering in northern India killed at least 60 and left scores injured, officials said Tuesday, adding that many women and children were among the dead and the toll could rise. (AP Photo)

Initial reports said organizers had permission to host about 5,000 people, but more than 15,000 came for the event by the Hindu preacher, who used to be a police officer in the state before he left his job to give religious sermons. He has led other such gatherings over the last two decades.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered condolences to the families of the dead and said the federal government was working with state authorities to ensure the injured received help.

Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, called the stampede “heart-wrenching” in a post on X. He said authorities were investigating.

“Look what happened and how many people have lost their lives. Will anyone be accountable?” Rajesh Kumar Jha, a member of parliament, told reporters. He said the stampede was a failure by the state and federal governments to manage large crowds, adding that “people will keep on dying” if authorities do not take safety protocols seriously enough.

In 2013, pilgrims visiting a temple for a popular Hindu festival in central Madhya Pradesh state trampled each other amid fears that a bridge would collapse. At least 115 were crushed to death or died in the river.

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In 2011, more than 100 Hindu devotees died in a crush at a religious festival in the southern state of Kerala.