At least 32 people have been killed in a stampede during a religious festival in the eastern Indian city of Patna. Officials said the panic was possibly triggered by rumors of an electrical fire.
The accident took place on Friday following celebrations on the major Hindu festival of Dussehra, which marks the victory of good over evil. Most of the dead were women and a few children. At least 15 people were taken to hospital, said the authorities.
"We have information that 32 people including women and children died due to a stampede," Gupteshwar Pandey, additional director general of police for the state of Bihar, told the news agency AFP. "Dozens of people were seriously injured."
Television footage showed shoes, slippers and handbags strewn over the Gandhi Maidan festival ground.
"Someone screamed that an electrical wire (had) set fire on the ground and, hearing that, almost everyone jumped on each other to get out of the venue as quickly as possible," a witness told the local NDTV channel.
State officials said they had ordered a probe and that the police was examining closed circuit television footage to determine the exact cause of the accident.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also offered his condolences to the victims' families. "The stampede in Patna is deeply saddening. I spoke to the Bihar CM about the situation," the PM tweeted on Friday, referring to Bihar state's top politician Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi.
Inadequate safety measures
Angry crowds were seen protesting against the authorities outside the venue by throwing shoes and plastic bottles at police vehicles. The victims' families complained about a lack of security and an evacuation plan by event organizers.
"There was no adequate lighting in the exit areas; that added to the panic among people," said a witness.
"There was very little police presence and there were vendors who had put up their stalls at the exit gates, making it more difficult to leave," another witness told NDTV.
Stampedes during religious festivals are common in India. Last October, more than 110 Hindu pilgrims were crushed to death at a temple in the western state of Maharashtra.
shs/msh (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)