MUMBAI — A fatal stampede at a train station in Mumbai left at least 22 people dead Friday, sparking a debate about India's creaking urban infrastructure.
Eyewitnesses described people being trampled under a panicked crowd on a pedestrian bridge at Elphinstone Road station, in a recently developed, upscale office area in south Mumbai. Some lost shoes and handbags, others emerged from the scrum with torn clothing, and many lay on the floor screaming for help. More than 30 people were reported injured.
Railways spokesman Anil Saxena said the stampede occurred when a strong rainstorm struck without warning. "A big crowd had gathered on the footbridge," he said. "They were waiting for the rain to stop. Some people slipped because of the wet stairs, and that's why a stampede-like incident happened."
Shyam Doijade, a 63-year-old retired man who helped injured people into ambulances after the incident, said: "The bridge is not big enough for the public. Some people got stuck, one person's neck here, someone's head there, one foot here, another there. There is a grill near the stairs; people were stuck there, too."
Although stampedes are common in India, the incident has sparked an uproar about the risks facing Mumbai's commuters. "Those who go to work on trains here leave their homes wearing a shroud," Doijade said, speaking metaphorically to imply that commuters are prepared for death.
An estimated 7 million commuters use the railways each day in Mumbai, India's largest city. Trains are often crammed with passengers, many hanging outside the cars. Mumbai's trains operate at 2.6 times their capacity, according to data website IndiaSpend. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 26,066 people died in 2015 in railway accidents across India.
On social media, many Indians called out the government for spending on prestige projects such as a shiny new bullet train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, instead of focusing on basic infrastructure.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, who rushed to Elphinstone after the stampede, was greeted by anti-government chants, according to the Hindu newspaper. He said the government has ordered a probe into the incident.
Modi tweeted: "My deepest condolences to all those who have lost their lives due to the stampede in Mumbai. Prayers with those who are injured."
At the nearby King Edward Memorial Hospital, a small group started lining up to give blood to victims. Niharika Sharma, a 17-year-old volunteer at the hospital, described the scene as "total chaos."
"There were lots of dead bodies and a lot of people injured," she said. "There are so many people inside that we cannot accommodate them all. People are running here and there. There are no beds; people are just treating patients on chairs."
At Elphinstone Road station, Dhanashree Dagare, 38, said she began crying when she saw the chaos. "If people had just waited a bit, if the station master had the presence of mind to stop the trains . . .," she said. "We saw living people die."
Doshi reported from New Delhi.