NEW DELHI: At Joda Phatak in Amritsar this evening, hundreds had gathered close to the railway tracks to celebrate Dussehra. Less than 100 metres away, stood the near 20-foot-tall effigy of Ravan, which was to be burnt in the traditional finale to Dussehra celebrations, like every year.
To maintain a safe distance from the effigy, many stood on the train tracks, still managing to get a good view.
The evening program went on as planned, and finally, at 6:45 pm, the Ravan effigy was set afire. As massive fireworks went off in the dark sky, a section of the crowd retreated towards the tracks.
“When the effigy started to burn in full flow, people began running away from it fearing it may fall over them,” said an eyewitness.
Few noticed the closed level crossing, an indication that a train was going to pass.
A speeding train then rammed the crowd, crushing at least 50 to death. Over 70 others were rushed to hospital.
The deafening sound of multiple firecrackers going off at the same time had muffled the siren of the train, which was coming from Jalandhar.
“Out of nowhere came the train… Before anyone could realise what was happening, it ran over scores of people,” a man told reporters.
It took just about 10 to 15 seconds for the train to pass — and leave behind a heap of crushed and dismembered bodies. Video clips posted on social media showed the extent of devastation.
Wails and cries of people filled the air as friends and relatives frantically looked for their near and dear ones. Severed bodies, including of many children, were still lying on the accident site hours after the incident with angry people not allowing authorities to remove them.
The train driver informed the station master at the next station about the incident, officials said, adding his version would be recorded to determine the cause of the accident.
Train movement on the Jalandhar-Amritsar section (including Pathankot) has been suspended after the accident.