At least 24 people were killed and 20 others injured in a stampede in northern India as people tried to cross a crowded bridge to reach the venue of a Hindu religious ceremony.

The stampede on Saturday happened on the outskirts of Varanasi, a city in Uttar Pradesh state known for its temples, said police officer Kumar Prashant.

S.K. Bhagat, another police officer, said that organisers were expecting 3000 Hindu devotees at the ceremony, but that more than 70,000 thronged the ashram of a local Hindu religious leader, Jai Baba Gurudev, on the banks of the Ganges River.

‘We were not prepared for such a large crowd,’ Raj Bahadur, a spokesman for the organisers, told The Associated Press.

The stampede occurred as police started turning back people from the overcrowded bridge, the Press Trust of India news agency cited Bahadur as saying.

That triggered a rumour among the devotees that the bridge had collapsed, and they started running for safety, he said.

Nineteen people were killed on the spot and five others succumbed to their injuries at a hospital, said police officer Daljit Chaudhary. Four of the 20 injured people were still in serious condition at the hospital, he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was deeply saddened by the tragedy. ‘I have spoken to officials and asked them to ensure all possible help to those affected,’ he tweeted.

Deadly stampedes are fairly common during Indian religious festivals, where large crowds gather in small areas with few safety or crowd control measures.

AP

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At least 24 people were killed and 20 others injured in a stampede in northern India as people tried to cross a crowded bridge to reach the venue of a Hindu religious ceremony. The stampede on Saturday happened on the outskirts of Varanasi, a city in Uttar Pradesh state known...