A massive crowd of morning commuters stampeded on the stairwell of a narrow footbridge linking two railways stations in Mumbai on Friday, leaving at least 22 people dead and more than 30 injured as onlookers watched victims stumbling, falling and piling up along the railings, officials said.
The tragedy took place around 10.40 am when the overbridge, linking Elphinstone Road and Parel suburban stations, became overcrowded with people taking shelter from a heavy downpour. The bridge is used by lakhs of people to commute to the commercial area with high-end corporate and media offices, a police official said.
People were trapped on the stairs and the decades-old bridge, crammed so tight in the narrow space that several suffocated to death. As those on the platform below watched helplessly, many people attempted to escape by climbing over the railing. Many were seen trying desperately to stay upright in the onslaught of tumbling humanity.
"It was raining heavily and people on the bridge were in a rush to get down, while those who had alighted from suburban trains were making their way up," said Kishor Thakkar, who has been travelling on the route for years.
"We had given a letter to the railway administration six months ago with a request to do something to improve the shoddy state of affairs here," he said.
The pile of footwear left behind was a mute testimony to the tragedy that unfolded.
Nineteen of the 22 people killed in the stampede have been identified, a civic official said.
"We carried out a detailed verification of documents and ascertained the identity of 19 victims (deceased) so far," I A Kundan, Additional Municipal Commissioner said.
A help desk has been set up at KEM Hospital to facilitate the identity of those killed, who were taken to the civic body-run medical facility, and share details with their relatives, she said.
Postmortem examinations are being carried out after which the bodies will be handed over to their families, the officer said.
Condolences came in from President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Compensation of Rs 10 lakh was announced for kin of the deceased -- Rs 5 lakh from Railways Minister Piyush Goyal and Rs 5 lakh from Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
The rain and a short circuit were amongst the reasons being attributed for the stampede, which many citizens said was a tragedy waiting to happen.
"The overbridge of Elphinstone station was overcrowded and due to rain it got slippery too. This caused panic and resulted in the stampede," said Atul Shrivastav, inspector general of the Railway Protection Force.
"Due to sudden rain, people waited at the station. When the rain stopped, there was chaos as people rushed out," added railways spokesperson Anil Saxena.
Police also suspect that a short-circuit with a loud sound near the FOB led to panic and people started running, resulting in the stampede.
Eight women and a young boy were amongst those killed, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's disaster management cell chief Mahesh Narvekar said, adding that five of the injured were critical.
The railways minister, who reached Mumbai on Friday, cancelled his programme to inaugurate 100 additional suburban services in Mumbai and announced a high-level inquiry headed headed by Western Railway's chief safety officer.
Besides Rs 5 lakh to the kin of each of the deceased, he also announced Rs 1 lakh for the grievously injured and Rs 50,000 for those with minor injuries.
Watch the video of the stampede
"Situation in Mumbai is being continuously monitored. @PiyushGoyal is in Mumbai taking stock of the situation & ensuring all assistance," Modi said in a tweet.
According to the BMC's disaster control room, 22 people were brought dead to the King Edward Memorial Hospital Hospital in Parel.
Officials of the railway, police and fire brigade rushed to the site to carry out rescue operations.
"Though security personnel were deployed to regulate the crowd on the staircases of the platform, excessive crowd led to the unfortunate incident," WR's Chief Public Relations Officer Ravinder Bhakar said.
It was technically not a "rail-related" incident, but the victims would be compensated according to rules of the railways, he said.
Soon after the stampede, an accident relief medical equipment train rushed to the spot and medical assistance was provided to the victims, a railways official said.
"I feel sad for these families and such a thing happening in my Mumbai is matter of grave concern. We are committed to avoid any recurrence of any such incidents," the railways minister told reporters.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who is in Singapore for an investor interaction, added in a tweet that an inquiry would be conducted by the Maharashtra government and the ministry of railways and necessary strict action would be taken.
The medical expenses of the injured would be borne by the state government, he said.
The Mumbai police has issued an appeal to donate blood.
"A -ve, B -ve and AB -ve blood is required in KEM hospital for those injured in #Elphinstone stampede. Please contact the blood bank at KEM," the Mumbai police tweeted.