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Train mows down crowd at India festival, at least 58 dead

Friday, October 19, 2018

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NEW DELHI, India (AP) — A speeding train ran over a crowd watching fireworks during a religious festival in northern India on Friday, killing at least 58 people and injuring dozens more, police said.

The train failed to stop after the accident on the outskirts of Amritsar, a city in Punjab state, said the state governing Congress party politician, Pratap Singh Bajwa.

Amrinder Singh, the state's top elected official, told reporters that he had reports of 50 to 60 people dead. Thirty bodies had been removed from the site by Friday evening.

Police Commissioner SS Srivastava said the police have found 58 bodies so far.

The Press Trust of India news agency said two trains arrived from the opposite direction on separate tracks at the same time giving little opportunity to people to escape. However, the casualties were caused by one of the trains, it quoted officials as saying. There was no railroad ministry statement on the accident.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was extremely saddened by the train accident.

"Have asked officials to provide immediate assistance that is required," Modi tweeted.

A witness said the train didn't even sound its whistle as it sped past the site, where hundreds were watching the burning of an effigy of demon Ravana during the Hindu festival of Dussehra.

"Why did authorities allow the fireworks display so close to the railroad track,'" he asked. He told the Republic television channel that he lost two brothers.

Another witness said the victims didn't realize that a train was coming their way because the fireworks were too loud.

Navjot Kaur Siddhu, a local Congress party politician who was the chief guest at the religious function, said the celebrations take place in the area every year and railroad authorities are alerted to run the trains at slow speeds.

A large number of people live in the area with homes on both sides of the railroad track, she said.

Shatrughan Das, an injured 35-year-old factory worker, said he was sitting close to the railroad track watching the fireworks. "I didn't see the train coming. I fell unconscious. I saw the police taking me to a hospital as I regained consciousness."

"I am feeling a strong headache and pain in my back and legs," Das said from his hospital bed.

"But I don't have serious injuries."

Following the accident, people rushed to the site and shouted at railway officials for not taking precautions. The site of the accident is nearly 465 kilometres (290 miles) north of New Delhi.

Fifty bodies had already been found and at least 50 injured were admitted to a government-run hospital, the Press Trust of India news agency quoted Rajesh Sharma, a magistrate, as saying.

As the effigy was lit and the fireworks started at the religious function, a section of the crowd started retreating toward railroad tracks while watching the event.

While accidents are relatively common on India's sprawling rail network, Friday's was among the deadliest in recent years. In 2016, 146 people were killed when a train slid off railroad tracks in eastern India.

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