A speeding train has crashed into a crowd watching fireworks during a religious festival in northern India, killing at least 60 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 local politician Pratap Singh Bajwa.
Railway police said that the death toll had risen to 60. Another 50 people have been injured and are in hospital.
The Press Trust of India news agency said two trains arrived from opposite directions on separate tracks, giving little opportunity for people to escape. The casualties were caused by one of the trains.
Extremely saddened by the train accident in Amritsar. The tragedy is heart-wrenching. 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.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 19, 2018
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “extremely saddened” by the accident, adding he has “asked officials to provide immediate assistance that is required”.
A witness said the train did not 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.
As the effigy was lit and the fireworks started, a section of the crowd started retreating towards the railway while observing the event.
“Why did authorities allow the fireworks display so close to the railroad track?” the witness asked. He told the Republic television channel that he lost two brothers.
Another witness said the victims did not realise that a train was coming 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 railway 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 railway, she said.
However, junior railways minisfter Manoj Sinha said after visiting the accident site that organisers did not alert railway authorities about their plan to hold the event there.
Shatrughan Das, an injured 35-year-old factory worker, said he was sitting close to the tracks watching the fireworks.
He said: “I didn’t see the train coming. I fell unconscious. I saw the police taking me to a hospital as I regained consciousness.”.
Incredibly sad to hear the devastating news in #Amritsar. A tragic loss of life. My thoughts are with the family and friends of all those affected.— Mark Field (@MarkFieldUK) October 19, 2018
Following the accident, people rushed to the site and shouted at railway officials for not taking precautions.
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 tracks in eastern India.