Amritsar: At least 59 dead as India train mows down crowd

Media caption,
Crowds celebrate Hindu festival near Amritsar

At least 59 people have been killed and dozens more injured by a train running into a crowd near Amritsar in India's northern Punjab state.

The victims were standing on the railway tracks watching celebrations for Dusshera, a Hindu festival, when a train hit them at high speed on Friday.

It is not clear who, if anyone, had given permission for the event and officials are trading blame.

An inquiry into the incident has been ordered by the Punjab authorities.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the incident as "heart-wrenching".

Families of victims held an angry protest on the tracks on Saturday.

How did it happen?

A large crowd had gathered to watch a celebration symbolising the triumph of the Hindu god Rama over the 10-headed demon king Ravana, symbolising the victory of good over evil.

The event involved the burning of a firecracker-filled effigy of Ravana and a fireworks display.

At one point, some of the crowd moved on to some railway tracks a short distance away, with some reports citing organisers' safety concerns about the effigy.

According to eyewitnesses, many on the tracks had been busy filming the festivities on their phones at the time so did not hear or see the train approaching at high speed.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Children are reported to be among those killed by the train

The train that hit the crowds was travelling from Jalandhar to Amritsar.

Hardeep Singh, chief medical officer for Amritsar, said on Saturday that at least 59 people had been killed by the train and 90 others injured.

Officials have warned identification of all the victims could take several days.

Eyewitness Amar Nath told BBC Punjabi that people had been "mauled" by the train.

"I removed the bodies from the tracks... my hands were full of blood."

Who is being blamed ?

The exact circumstances are not yet clear.

On Saturday scores of victims' families gathered at the tracks, criticising the state government and demanding action against the train's driver.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Family members mourned at the first funerals for victims on Saturday

Ordering the inquiry, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh described the incident as "absolutely tragic".

He said officials would do "everything possible" to assist the injured.

Ashwani Lohani, the chairman of the Railway Board, said it was "wrong" to hold the railways responsible for what had happened because they had not been made aware of the event, and people "are not expected to be on the tracks".

But local residents have told media the effigy burning is a regular local event there for every Dusshera.

"I've been seeing this event every Dusshera from here and this has never happened before, the railways should have stopped or slowed down the train," Deep Kumari, who was watching from her home, told Reuters news agency.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The incident happened as crowds were celebrating a Hindu festival

The deadly accident has renewed criticism of India's state rail system, which has a notoriously poor safety record.

A state of mourning was declared in Punjab with offices and schools staying closed on Saturday as the first funerals for identified victims took place.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

He also announced compensation for the families of the dead and injured victims.