NEW DELHI: At least 19 people died in a stampede in the ancient northern Indian city of Varanasi on Saturday, officials said.
Panic spread as hundreds of Hindu pilgrims tried to cross a bridge to a sacred site in one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, at the heart of the constituency of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Rumors about the bridge collapse led to chaos after a man fell down in a crowd,” said police officer Javeed Ahmad.
Millions of Hindus go to Varanasi every year to pray and wash away their sins by taking a dip in the sacred river Ganges.
Modi, who was hosting a meeting of BRICS nations in Goa, expressed his condolences to the victims’ families and promised help.
Two police officers at the scene of the stampede said about 50 people were injured and that officials were now struggling to deter pilgrims from entering a religious site near the bridge.
“We are deploying over 100 police officers to control the crowd. People are in a state of panic,” said Ravi Tyagi, a police officer.
Ravindra Sharma, who was injured in the stampede, said his teenage daughter was missing and the authorities were unable to trace her.
“We came to seek the blessings of our god, only god can help me find her,” he said.