MUMBAI: A stampede on an overcrowded Mumbai railway bridge lashed by a monsoon storm killed at least 22 people Friday and raised new safety questions about one of the world’s biggest rail networks.
Some were crushed to death, some suffocated and others just fell from the bridge, witnesses said. Shoes, slippers and bags were left strewn over the steps of the bridge after bodies were cleared.
Hundreds of people took shelter on the bridge from a sudden downpour and the deadly crush started as they emerged, an Indian Railways spokesman said.
Seventy-eight-year-old newspaper seller Dadanand Parab told how victims tumbled over the side of the bridge onto his stall.
“They were breathless and shocked and I tried to help by giving them water but there were just so many people,” Parab, who has sold newspapers at the station since 1975, told AFP.
“It was a nightmare situation. I saw many women and men just collapsing due to overcrowding and suffocation.”
Indian Railways spokesman Ravindra Bhakar said more than 400 passengers took shelter from heavy rains on the footbridge.
“People at the front slipped and the huge crowd toppled over leading to the stampede,” Bhakar told AFP.
He said 14 men and eight women were killed and another 36 people injured.
A hospital official said at least six people were in critical condition due to internal injuries and asphyxiation.
“Some had head injuries but most had signs of internal organs being damaged by pressure,” said Avinash Supe, dean of the Mumbai’s KEM hospital.
Trains were briefly halted and a formal inquiry was started into the tragedy as authorities announced compensation of about $7,500 for the family of each victim.
The stampede broke out at 10:30 am near a ticket window on the bridge that connects the Elphinstone — recently renamed Prabhadevi — and Parel stations in central Mumbai.
TV footage showed commuters trying to revive the injured by pumping their chests and carrying some down stairs to street level.
The stampede is the latest disaster to hit Indian Railways — the world’s fourth largest network — which is struggling to upgrade infrastructure and safety after a series of deadly crashes in recent years.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet expressed sympathies with the families of those killed and assured all possible assistance.
Last month, 23 people were killed after a train derailed in a northern city. Nearly 150 died in November in a crash.
Shiv Sena, Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party alliance partner in western Maharashtra state which includes Mumbai — called the tragedy a “public massacre” and slammed the government for investing in bullet trains instead of the crumbling railway system.