Hathras: Stampede at religious event kills at least 116, injures 80

LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Thousands of people at a religious gathering in India rushed to leave a makeshift tent, triggering a stampede Tuesday that killed at least 116 people and injured dozens, officials said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the panic that followed the event, which was attended by a Hindu guru known locally as Bhol Baba. Local news reports quoted authorities as saying that the heat and stuffiness in the tent may have been to blame. Video of the incident showed the structure appearing to collapse.

At least 116 people, most of them women and children, were killed in the stampede, said Prashant Kumar, director general of police in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where the stampede occurred.

More than 80 other people were injured and taken to hospitals, senior police officer Shalabh Mathur said.

“People started falling on top of each other. Those who were crushed by the earthquake died. People there pulled them out,” Shakuntala Devi, an eyewitness, told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Relatives of the victims, who lay on stretchers covered with white sheets in the courtyard of a local hospital, sobbed. A bus arrived there carrying more victims, whose bodies were lying on benches inside the hospital.

Deadly stampede incidents relatively common Often, large crowds congregate in small areas around Indian religious festivals, where infrastructure is poor and safety measures are few.

Police officer Rajesh Singh said there was likely to be heavy crowding at the event held in a village in Hathras district, about 350 kilometres (220 miles) southwest of the state capital Lucknow.

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Initial reports said organizers had permission to host about 5,000 people, but more than 15,000 people attended the event hosted by the Hindu preacher, who was a police officer in the state before quitting his job to deliver religious sermons. He has led other similar gatherings over the past two decades.

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

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath described the stampede as “heartbreaking” in a post on Twitter. He said authorities were investigating.

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

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

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

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Pathi reported from New Delhi:

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