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Festival stampede kills at least 18

Bridge collapses during Hindu ritual

Festival stampede kills at least 18
A file photo of Chhath Puja celebrations in New Delhi

An investigation has been ordered after at least 18 people, including eight children, were killed in a stampede during a Hindu festival in Patna, the capital of Bihar state.

The stampede occurred after the collapse of a bamboo bridge erected for the annual Chhath puja, or ritual, held by the banks of the Ganges River.

An undisclosed number of people, mostly women and children, were reported missing following the tragedy, said superintendent of police Jayant Kant.

"The injured have been admitted to various hospitals. The toll may rise as some of the injured are in critical condition," he said.

State chief minister Nitish Kumar has ordered an inquiry and announced compensation of 200,000 rupees (US$4,000) to the next of the kin of each of the victims, a district official said.

Chhath is annual four-day Hindu festival dedicated to the sun god. Thousands of people offer prayers and food to the god at sunset and at sunrise.

The tragedy occurred when a large number of people rushed onto the bridge for the first offering to the setting sun yesterday.

"Fear-stricken people trampled each other after the bridge collapsed," said Kant.

Jesuit Father Jose Kalapura, who is based in Patna, said many of the victims would have been saved if the government had a sufficient number of medical staff on hand. Most were on holiday to celebrate the festival.

 “I fear there are more casualties than have been reported in the media,” said the priest, citing eyewitness accounts of the tragedy.

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