Amritsar: At least 52 people were killed and 72 injured Friday evening after a crowd of Dussehra revellers that had spilled onto railway tracks while watching burning of Ravana effigy was run over by a train near here, officials said.
The train was coming from Jalandhar to Amritsar when the incident occurred at Joda Phatak where at least 300 people were watching 'Ravana dahan' at a ground near the tracks.
Sub Divisional Magistrate Amritsar I Rajesh Sharma said 52 people have died and at least 72 injured have been admitted to Amritsar hospital.
As the effigy was lit and the fireworks went off, a section of the crowd started retreating towards the tracks where a large number of people were already standing to watch the event, officials said.
However, two trains arrived from the opposite direction at the same time giving little opportunity to people to escape, they said. Several people were mowed down by one of the trains, they said.
Wails and cries of people filled the air as friends and relatives frantically looked for their near and dear ones. Severed bodies, including of many children, were still lying on the accident site hours after the incident with angry people not allowing authorities to remove them.
It was a heart-rending sight as the dismembered body parts lay strewn on the blood-soaked ground. Many bodies could not be identified.
People shouted slogans against local MLA Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who was present as chief guest during the event. She later said she rushed to the hospital immediately after the incident.
There was shock and disbelief as panic-stricken people recounted the horror. "I have lost my minor child. I want him back," an inconsolable mother could be heard. "Several times we have been requesting the authorities and local leaders telling them to take up the issue with railway authorities to slow down the trains near this Phatak during Dussehra, but no one has listened," a local said. Another said people could not hear the sound of the approaching train due to the bursting of fire-crackers. The incident sent shock waves across the country. There was an outpouring of grief with President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoling the loss of lives. Modi directed officials to provide immediate assistance.
"Extremely saddened by the train accident in Amritsar. The tragedy is heart-wrenching," he tweeted.
"My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and I pray that the injured recover quickly. Have asked officials to provide immediate assistance that is required," he said.
"Shocked to hear about the tragedy on rail tracks in Amritsar, Punjab. Understand Indian Railways and local authorities are taking steps to help affected people," Kovind said. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh announced compensation of Rs five lakh each to the kin of the deceased and said he was rushing to the spot to personally supervise rescue and relief operations.
He also announced free treatment to all injured in the accident. Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha, Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani and Northern Railway general manager Vishwesh Chaube are rushing to the spot while Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said immediate relief and rescue operations are being conducted.