Death toll rises to 61 in India train disaster

At least 61 people were killed and over 70 others injured in northern Indian state of Punjab after a train ran into a crowd watching festivities of a Hindu festival on the railway tracks, officials said Saturday.
The incident took place Friday evening at 6:45 p.m. local time at Jaura Phatak in Amritsar, the Sikh holy city of Punjab.
“So far 61 people, including women and children, have been killed in the incident and 72 others who were injured have been admitted at a hospital here,” a local government official Rajesh Sharma in Amritsar told the media.
Eyewitnesses and officials said the crowd had gathered to watch the celebrations of a Hindu festival Dussehra when a train ran over hundreds of them standing on a railway track.
Dussehra is a Hindu festival marking the triumph of good over evil. Effigies are burnt and fireworks are set off as part of the festival in north India.
“As demon king Ravana’s effigy was located very close to the railway tracks at Jaura Phatak, a section of the crowd retreated towards the tracks to watch the celebrations, almost ignorant of standing on the tracks,” local man Parminder Singh told Xinhua.
“As the firecracker-filled effigy was lit and fireworks went off, there was lot of noise and people who were hit could not see or hear the train that mowed them.”
Eyewitnesses said many on the tracks were busy filming the festivities on their phones, and did not notice the train approaching at high speed.
The local government has describing the incident as tragic and ordered an inquiry into the accident.
Officials said the state has decided to observe a mourning on Saturday in wake of the incident.
“The state will remain in mourning today in view of Amritsar train mishap. All offices and educational institutions will remain closed,” a government spokesman quoted state’s Chief Minister Amarinder Singh as having said.
Following the accident authorities rushed police and disaster management teams to the spot to carry out rescue work.
Reports said around 700 people were witnessing the effigy burning and over 300 were on the tracks.
The train that hit the crowds was travelling from Jalandhar to Amritsar city.
Angry residents blame the local government officials for the deaths.
“The administration and the Dussehra committee are to be blamed for the deaths as they should have not allowed to organize the celebrations near the tracks or halted the movement of trains around this hour,” Khulwant Bhullar, another local resident said. “No alarm was raised when the train was approaching.”
The local government has announced a relief of around 6,807 U.S. dollars to family of each deceased and announced free medical treatment to the injured in hospitals.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have expressed grief over the tragedy.
“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,” Modi said in a statement.
Indian Railway Minister Piyush Goyal also expressed grief over the deaths and said his ministry officials were on the spot assisting in rescue and relief measures.
“Shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic train incident that occurred in Amritsar. My heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims. I pray for the injured to recover quickly,” the minister said. “Railways is conducting immediate relief and rescue operations.”
There are fears that the death toll is likely to go up further, officials said.