At least 22 killed in stampede at Mumbai rail station

At least 22 people were killed Friday while trying to escape a railway station in the heart of India’s financial capital that had become overcrowded during a rainstorm, authorities said.

Dozens of others were injured in the midmorning stampede, which occurred along a narrow pedestrian bridge connecting two busy stations in central Mumbai.

“Due to sudden rain, people were waiting at the station,” Anil Saxena, a spokesman for Indian Railways, told reporters. “When the rain stopped, there was chaos to go out [and the] stampede occurred.”

A crush of people had gathered between Parel and Elphinstone stations around 10:30 a.m., near the end of the morning commute. Gut-wrenching scenes on television showed bodies jammed together against a railing. Discarded footwear littered the bridge, apparently lost by victims. Some men even jumped from the bridge to the train platform more than 12 feet below.

Shruti Lokre, 37, a lawyer caught in the stampede, said she was horrified at what she witnessed for almost an hour.

“Passengers were falling down, women crying, people stomping on each other; it was chaotic,” she said. “Old ladies were getting breathless. It was claustrophobic. I also got trampled. But two people helped me back on my feet.

“When I finally managed to get to the staircase after an hour of surviving the chaos, I saw bodies being picked up.”

The bridge, which is believed to date from British colonial times, has long been described as a safety hazard. A local lawmaker, Arvind Sawant, last year received word from the Indian Ministry of Railways that his request to build a new, 40-foot-wide bridge was “under positive consideration,” according to a letter released Friday.

The injured were being treated at the nearby King Edward Memorial Hospital, where doctors issued appeals for blood donations.

Federal disaster teams were deployed to the area by 1 p.m., but Lokre said she did not see police vehicles arrive at the scene to disperse the crowd until about half an hour after the stampede broke out.

There were conflicting reports as to what triggered the stampede. Police said falling concrete chunks sparked a rumor that the bridge was collapsing. Others said a short circuit caused a loud noise that created a panic.

India’s railways minister, Piyush Goel, visited the scene and expressed his condolences to victims. Goel was due to launch new suburban rail services Friday in Mumbai, a densely packed seaside metropolis of more than 15 million people. Suburban trains are the lifeblood of the city, carrying an estimated 8 million travelers daily.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has come under criticism for its plans to launch a $17-billion high-speed train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, the largest city in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, while existing local trains are overcrowded and in disrepair.

An analysis by India Spend, a data journalism website, found in 2015 that nine people died every day on Mumbai’s local train tracks due to accidents or suicides.

The stampede occurred in Mumbai’s Lower Parel district, a fast-growing central section of the city where mushrooming nightlife zones and high-rises — including an upcoming Trump Tower — far outpace the crumbling infrastructure. The bridge where commuters were trapped is the only one connecting the two stations.

“If a train passes under it, it shakes,” Lokre said. “We have even joked about what we would need to do if we happened to be on it if it collapses.”

Parth M.N. is a special correspondent.

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UPDATES:

5:45 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times staff reporting.

3:41 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times staff reporting, additional details.

1 a.m.: This article was updated to raise the death toll from 21 to 22 and the injury total from 20 to 27.

This article was originally published at 12:25 a.m.

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