At least 116 people, many of them women and children, were killed in a stampede at a Hindu religious gathering in north India on Tuesday, authorities said, in one of the country’s worst such tragedies in years.

The stampede happened in a village in Hathras district, about 200 km (125 miles) southeast of the national capital New Delhi, where authorities said thousands had gathered in sweltering late afternoon temperatures.

“The incident happened due to overcrowding at the time when people were trying to leave the venue,” Ashish Kumar, administrator of the Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, told reporters.

Chaitra V., another senior state official, told broadcaster India Today that people may have lost their footing as they sought water in the heat.

“There was wet mud at one place where people may have slipped. Also because of the heat, people may have made their way to the spot where water was kept and that could have caused the incident as well,” she said.

A video on social media showed a large crowd packed into a tented area, standing and listening to devotional tunes as they waved their hands in the direction of the religious leader who sat on a stage.

Video clips recorded by news agency ANI, in which Reuters has a minority stake, showed bodies piled into the back of trucks and laid out in vehicles.
Purses and bags covered in dust, were heaped up at the venue, with people sitting on their haunches sifting through them to identify their belongings.
Mobile phones were similarly piled together, waiting to be claimed by their owners.

It also showed some women hanging on to the bamboo poles holding up the canopy to get a better view above the heads of the large crowd.

Reuters could not immediately verify the social media images.

“There must have been about 50,000 people…at the gate on the highway, some people were going left and some people were going right, the stampede was caused in that confusion,” Suresh Chandra, a witness who was at the gathering, told local media.

Seema, a woman who travelled from a town almost 60 km away to attend the event, said she was leaving the venue when the stampede occurred. She was accompanied by three relatives, two of whom were killed.

Stampedes and other accidents involving large crowds at religious gatherings and pilgrimage sites have happened in the past and are often blamed on poor crowd management.

While 115 people were killed in central India in a stampede in 2013, nearly 250 died in 2008 and more than 340 were killed during an annual pilgrimage in the western state of Maharashtra in 2005, according to local media reports.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered an investigation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the federal government was assisting the state and announced a compensation of 200,000 rupees ($2,400) to the families of the dead and 50,000 rupees to those injured.

Source: Reuters