Mumbai stampede triggered by rush to take cover from rain

Above: A man injured in the crush being taken to hospitalLeft: The crowd of commuters on the bridge at the Elphinstone railway station in Mumbai yesterday, in a picture taken before the stampede occurred.
The crowd of commuters on the bridge at the Elphinstone railway station in Mumbai yesterday, in a picture taken before the stampede occurred.PHOTO: REUTERS
Above: A man injured in the crush being taken to hospitalLeft: The crowd of commuters on the bridge at the Elphinstone railway station in Mumbai yesterday, in a picture taken before the stampede occurred.
A man injured in the crush being taken to hospital.PHOTO: REUTERS

MUMBAI • A morning rush-hour stampede killed at least 22 people and wounded 36 yesterday during a sudden monsoon downpour at a busy railway station in India's commercial hub of Mumbai, government and emergency officials said.

India has the world's fourth-biggest rail network, but it is grappling with underinvestment and overcrowding, especially in the city of 20 million where rail accidents have killed more than 3,000 people in each of the past three years.

The cause of the stampede on a tiny pedestrian bridge at the Elphinstone Road station was being investigated, said a police official at the site.

"Some of the injured are in serious condition," Dr Deepak Sawant, Health Minister of the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, said at a hospital where the injured were taken to.

The stampede, at the station recently renamed Prabhadevi, occurred after the cloudburst caught commuters off guard, sending scores scurrying for cover under a pedestrian overbridge, said Mr Akash Koteja, one of those injured.

"Trains were rolling in and some people wanted to get out of the station, but others were not making way. When a few tried, it led to a stampede," he said.

The bridge is usually crowded at that time of day, as it also provides an exit route for those disembarking at an adjoining railway station.

The crowded Elphinstone Road station connects passengers to Lower Parel, which houses financial firms and large corporations.

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The station's commuter numbers have soared in the last decade after banks and companies moved from the congested and expensive Nariman Point area in south Mumbai to the city centre.

India's new Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, who on Thursday said passenger safety was his biggest priority, has ordered a probe.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted to offer "deepest condolences" and "prayers with those who are injured".

Resident Babita Kamble said the bridge was old and quite narrow. "There are a lot of problems with the bridge, and it definitely needs rework and repair. This is a regular feature during monsoon. There is so much crowding, with no safety measures in place."

 

The stampede is the latest disaster to hit Mumbai, which is struggling with crumbling infrastructure and poor planning. Earlier this month, 33 people died after a building collapsed during a storm.

Some 7.5 million Mumbai commuters take the train daily, with services running every three minutes on average. Hundreds die every year due to losing their grip on the doors, falling while trying to get into packed compartments or hitting electric poles outside.

Official figures say some 3,400 people died last year either from falling off the trains or while crossing the tracks of the world's most overcrowded suburban rail network.

Stampedes are also common at India's religious festivals. Last year, 24 people were killed after a stampede broke out in the Hindu holy town of Varanasi.

REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2017, with the headline 'Mumbai stampede triggered by rush to take cover from rain'. Print Edition | Subscribe