More than 50 people reportedly were killed Friday when a train plowed through revelers who had gathered on the outskirts of the northern Indian city of Amritsar for the Hindu celebration of Dussehra marking the triumph of good over evil.
Witnesses told media outlets that as crowds spilled onto the train tracks, the booming of fireworks and the general celebratory din may have masked the sound of the oncoming train.
Video posted to Twitter shows flames consuming a huge effigy of the demon king Ravana amid deafening crackling. Spectators, some recording with their cellphones, stand with their heads tilted up. Then a train barrels through.
The commuter train was traveling at a high rate of speed, Reuters reports.
Officials said the exact death toll remains unclear.
“Some are saying 50, some are saying 60,” Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh said of the number killed. “But the injured are many.” He said the injured were being transported to the hospital, adding, “The government is going to bear the full cost of this.”
A crisis management center was in operation, and Singh described the mobilization of local authorities as on par with “war footing.”
A state of mourning was declared for Saturday in Punjab, a state bordering Pakistan.
In Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been tweeting photos of the joyful celebration, which is also known as Vijayadashami. One hour later, he tweeted his condolences at the tragic turn of events.
“Extremely saddened by the train accident in Amritsar,” he said. “The tragedy is heart-wrenching.”
Modi said he has asked officials to provide immediate assistance.
Singh tweeted that about $6,800 will be given to the families of the dead and that the injured will receive free medical care.
India’s rail system — among the longest in the world — has had a dismal safety record.
Last year, Indian officials reportedly tallied nearly 600 rail accidents in the preceding five years, around half of which were due to derailments.
Two years ago, more than 130 people were killed in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh after a train jumped the tracks.
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