Dozens of people have been killed after a train ran into a crowd in northern India.

The incident on Friday took place on the outskirts of Amritsar city, Punjab state, where hundreds of people had assembled near a railway track to watch a religious festival.

“We have 59 confirmed dead. The toll can rise,” state police chief Suresh Arora told Reuters news agency.

Emergency officials were still trying to ascertain the extent of the disaster, he said.

 

Police Commissioner S. S. Srivastava said the police have found 58 bodies so far.

Pratap Singh Bajwa, a Congress party leader in Punjab state, told the Associated Press news agency that the crowd did not see the speeding train approaching and that the train did not stop after the accident.

An unnamed witness said the train did not even sound its whistle as it sped past the site, where hundreds were watching the burning of an effigy of demon Ravana during the Hindu festival of Dussehra.

“Why did authorities allow the fireworks display so close to the railroad track?” he asked, telling the Republic television channel that he lost two brothers.

Another witness said the victims did not realise that a train was coming their way because the fireworks were too loud.

Shatrughan Das, an injured 35-year-old factory worker, said he was sitting close to the railroad track watching the fireworks.

“I didn’t see the train coming. I fell unconscious. I saw the police taking me to a hospital as I regained consciousness.

“I am feeling a strong headache and pain in my back and legs,” Das said from his hospital bed. “But I don’t have serious injuries.”

‘War footing’

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said relief and rescue operations were ongoing at the site on a “war footing”.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet he was “extremely saddened” by the accident and that he had asked officials to provide “immediate assistance”.

Following the accident, a large crowd of people rushed to the site and shouted angrily at railway officials for not taking precautions in view of the festival, AP news agency reported.

While accidents are relatively common on India’s sprawling rail network, Friday’s was among the deadliest in recent years.

In 2016, 146 people were killed when a train slid off railway tracks in eastern India.

A crowd shouts slogans beside the body of a victim of the train accident [AP Photo/Prabhjot Gill]

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