In the videos that emerged, as the effigy was lit and the fireworks went off, the crowd could be seen retreating towards the railway track.
It took just about 10-15 seconds for the train to pass, and leave behind a heap of crushed and dismembered bodies. The train mowed down and blew away anyone who was standing across the tracks as the effigy of Ravana went up in smoke.
People standing on the tracks did not realise that the train was fast approaching due to the noise of the firecrackers.
A state mourning was declared for today, and all offices and educational institutions will remain closed in Punjab.
Sub Divisional Magistrate Rajesh Sharma said 61 people, including women and children, have died and at least 72 injured have been admitted to Amritsar hospital.
The local passenger train, 74943 DMU, was coming from Pathankot. The CPRO (Northern) said, "As per initial information, the incident took place at gate number 27 between Amritsar and Manawala. As Dusshera celebrations and Raavan Dahan was taking place, some incident had occurred and people started rushing towards closed gate number 27 while the DMU train number 74943 was passing the closed gate. Further information is being collected."
"There are more than 50 casualties. The injured have been rushed to the hospital and passengers are being evacuated," police said after the accident.
Anger and sorrow filled the air as people ran to look for their near and dear ones. "I have lost my child. I want him back," said an inconsolable woman.
A local resident claimed they have been requesting the authorities and their representatives in legislatures to talk with the railways and make sure trains are slowed down near this section of the track during Dussehra. "But no one has listened," he lamented.
"The driver didn't blow the horn," alleged one of the witnesses.
People shout slogans against local MLA and chief guest Navjot Kaur Sidhu
People shouted slogans against local MLA and wife of Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who was present as chief guest during the event, alleging she left the venue after the accident. She, however, said she had left the place before the accident took place and rushed to the hospital the moment she came to know of it.
She said the railways should have ensured that trains slow down near that section of the track during Dussehra celebrations.
"Every year, Dussehra celebrations take place there," she said, as opposition parties raised questions about permission for holding the programme near the railway tracks.
Amid the political bickering, all major parties, including the BJP, Congress and AAP, also asked their local party workers to help in relief work.
Punjab CM cancels Israel tour, to visit Amritsar today
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who was scheduled to leave for Israel on Friday postponed his five-day visit to Israel and will visit Amritsar today.
Singh tweeted, "Shocked to hear of tragic rail accident in Amritsar. Have asked all government and private hospitals to stay open to help in this hour of grief. District authorities have been directed to take up relief and rescue operations on a war footing."
All private hospitals have also been asked to stay open, along with government hospitals, to provide urgent free treatment and care to the injured.
He announced the compensation of Rs five lakh each to the kin of the deceased.
Singh set up a Crisis Management Group to monitor the relief and rehabilitation efforts in the wake of the accident.
The group, led by Health Minister Brahm Mohindra and comprising Revenue Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria and Technical Education Minister Charanjit Singh Channi immediately rushed to the accident site to assess and tackle the situation.
#WATCH Punjab CM Amarinder Singh says " today's incident has been absolutely tragic. I am going to Amritsar tomorrow. The state is on full alert." pic.twitter.com/RHLO2LxAoa
— ANI (@ANI) October 19, 2018
PM Modi mourns train tragedy, announces compensation
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday mourned the death of several people in a train tragedy.
"Extremely saddened by the train accident in Amritsar. The tragedy is heart-wrenching. My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and I pray that the injured recover quickly," he tweeted.
Modi announced Rs 200,000 compensation for the family of the dead and Rs 50,000 for the injured. He also directed officials to provide immediate assistance.
Rajnath announces all possible assistance to Punjab
Extremely saddened by the train accident in Amritsar. The tragedy is heart-wrenching. My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and I pray that the injured recover quickly. Have asked officials to provide immediate assistance that is required.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 19, 2018
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced all possible assistance by the Centre to Punjab after the train accident.
Pained beyond words at the loss of precious lives due to a train tragedy during Dussehra festivities in Punjab. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased and prayers with the injured.
— राजनाथ सिंह (@rajnathsingh) October 19, 2018
"Pained beyond words at the loss of precious lives due to a train tragedy during Dussehra festivities in Punjab. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased and prayers with the injured," he tweeted.
The Home minister said he had spoken to Home secretary and DGP of Punjab regarding the accident and they were rushing to the spot.
Indian Railways issues helpline numbers
- Railways - 73325
- BSNL - 0183-2440024
Power Cabin Amritsar
- Railways - 72820
Railway officials rush to train accident site
Railways on Friday rushed its top officials to Amritsar, while Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, who had gone to the US, cancelled all his engagements there and is returning.
Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani and Northern Railway general manager Vishwesh Chaube are rushing to the spot, officials said.
"Shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic train incident that occurred in Amritsar. My heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims. I pray for the injured to recover quickly. Railways is conducting immediate relief and rescue operations," Goyal tweeted from the US where he had gone to attend an event.
Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani said it would be wrong to say that the Railways is responsible for the tragic incident, adding that people need to be more alert.
Speaking to ANI, Lohani asserted that the Railways administration was not informed about the Dussehra celebrations taking place near the main line. He further briefed that the two manned level-crossing on the track, where the accident took place, was closed.
"It would be wrong to say that Railways is responsible for this accident. There are two manned level-crossing on that track, both were close. It is the main line. There is no speed restriction there. The Railway administration was not informed about the Dussehra celebration near mainline. People were watching Dussehra celebrations from railway tracks. People need to be more alert; they must not trespass on railway tracks," he said.
Minister of State (MoS) for Railways Manoj Sinha, who visited the accident site, assured that the Railways is providing all assistance needed.
"Railway administration is at work to provide all kinds of help needed. It's not the time to do politics. Priority is to give the best medical aid to those who have been injured. Railway administration had no information about this event," he told reporters here.
Tragedy could have been avoided, Arun Jaitley expresses grief
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley expressed his grievances over the train accident
Speaking to ANI, Jaitley said, "Innocent people who had gone there to celebrate Dussehra themselves became victims of a very big tragedy, a lot of people have been injured as well. This is a tragedy that could have been avoided had the necessary steps been taken."
"But the time right now is for every agency from the state and the central governments, the railways, Zila authorities, etc, to come together to help the injured, provide them medical care, relief.. I just spoke with the Minister of State for Railways, Manoj Sinha, he said he will reach there, along with other officials and ministers from the Central government. I am confident that in the next few hours, all the injured will be attended to and provided relief," he added.
Opposition attacks Cong-led govt in Punjab
Former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal demanded an inquiry by a sitting high court judge to fix the responsibility and punish the guilty.
His son and senior party leader Sukhbir Singh Badal said he was extremely sad to hear the unfortunate incident.
"Local organisers and police must answer how the celebrations were allowed to be held near the railway track," he said on Twitter.
Akali leader Bikram Majithia said he was distressed to hear the unfortunate news of the train accident.
"The authorities concerned must be held accountable for the ill-fated accident & strict action must be taken against the guilty police officers and organisers," he said.
He demanded registration of a case against Sidhu. "I demand immediate registration of case against people present on the stage including Mrs Sidhu and arrest of those who gave permission for holding function near rail track."
Majithia also targeted Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. "Heads need to roll right from the top," Majithia said.
Aam Aadmi Party too held the Punjab government responsible for the accident.
Extremely sad news coming about a major train accident near Amritsar
I appeal to all our volunteers in the area to help authorities in the relief work and provide whatever help we can in this moment of crisis
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) October 19, 2018
AAP MLA Harpal Singh Cheema and its MP Bhangwant Maan expressed deep condolences over the deaths but blamed the district administration for the deaths as it allowed people to burn effigies close to railway tracks.
The AAP leaders demanded a judicial probe into the incident and punishment for the guilty. They also demanded a compensation of Rs 10 bn and a government job to one family member of those dead.
Services between Amritsar, Jalandhar affected after the train accident
All services between Jalandhar and Amritsar remained suspended hours after Dussehra revellers were mowed down but a train near Amritsar, railway officials said.
While some trains are being diverted, many are stranded near Jalandhar, they said.
"Train movement stopped after the accident as local people are sitting on the track," a railway official said.
As of now, two trains Bhatinda-Jammu Tawi and Jammu Tawi-Bhatinda have been diverted towards Jalandhar-Pathankot route.
Two trains Amritsar-Mumbai Golden Temple and Amritsar-Dehradun are stuck at Amritsar because of the accident, the officials said.
Punjab Governor, Navjot Singh Sidhu visit injured in hospital
Senior political figures including Punjab Governor V P Singh Badnore and Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, visited the injured in hospitals today.
Badnore arrived early and met the injured at the Guru Nanak Dev government hospital.
"This is a big tragedy. The doctors here are doing a good job in trying to save people," Badnore, who rushed from Chandigarh, told the media.
State Education Minister and Amritsar legislator O P Soni was also present during the Governor's visit.
Navjot Singh Sidhu arrived at the hospital today morning accompanied by hordes of security personnel and officials.
Sidhu refused to talk to the media. Sidhu met the injured and their families in the hospital and assured all possible help from the government and the local administration.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is expected to arrive later today and meet the families of victims.
The Punjab and Railway Police on Saturday questioned the driver of the train that crashed at least 60 people.
Punjab Police officials said the DMU (diesel multiple unit) driver had been detained at the Ludhiana railway station and was being questioned regarding the incident that took place on Friday night at the Jora Phatak near Dhobi Ghat within Amritsar city.
Sources said that the driver claimed that he was given green signal and all clear and had no idea that hundreds of people were standing on the tracks when the train crossed the area.
Police sources said that the organisers of the event had gone underground.
Railway officials were also gathering information from the railway linemen posted along the tracks near the Jora Phatak area who failed to inform the DMU driver regarding the presence of over 700 people on the railway tracks who were watching the burning of the Ravan and other effigies during Dussehra celebrations.