Death toll in India stampedes hits 38

Feb. 10, 2013 at 11:51 PM
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ALLAHABAD, India, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- At least 38 people died two in stampedes as 30 million Hindus gathered at India's Ganges and Yamuna rivers to cleanse their sins, officials said Sunday.

The gathering was the most auspicious of the six bathing days of the Kumbh Mela, a pilgrimage in which people gather where the two rivers meet, the BBC reported.

The death toll from a stampede at the Allahabad railroad station rose to 36 after 14 more people succumbed to their injuries, the Times of India reported. The newspaper said most of the victims were elderly caught in the rush of 150,000 devotees trying to board trains.

Railway spokesman Sandeep Mathur said the stampede was triggered when a railing on a footbridge near one platform broke, sending passengers falling down a staircase into the crowd.

In a second stampede, Sector 12 Magistrate Abhay Raj said a woman from Varanasi and a man from West Bengal died, and a few people received minor injuries when devotees panicked as they exited the river banks, the Press Trust of India reported.

The Kumbh Mela spans 55 days and happens once every six years. This event also marks the rare Maha Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, which only takes place once every 144 years. The timing of these gatherings is determined by astrology.

Devotees say the bathing helps bring salvation.

"When I bathe I am praying to God for the good of my country and the world," pharmacy student Ashutosh Pandey told the BBC.

More than 14,000 policemen, paramilitary forces and commandos were deployed to the area Sunday to ensure security to the 18 main bathing places along the rivers, the BBC reported.

Fourteen nearby hospitals had treated more than 150,000 pilgrims since they began gathering in the area Saturday.

Many suffered from respiratory problems, cold, joint pains and dust allergies, Dr. Kalim Aqmal told the television broadcaster.

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