A view of a flooded road on the banks of river Ganga in Allahabad
A view of a flooded road on the banks of river Ganga in Allahabad REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash

At least 24 people have died in a stampede at an Indian religious event attended by thousands in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Twenty others were injured in the crush on Saturday (15 October) near Rajghat bridge on the edge of the town of Varanasi, considered sacred by many Hindus.

Around 3,000 devotees of religious leader Jai Gurudev were expected to head to the banks of the Ganges River for the event but more than 70,000 showed up, police said.

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

He added that the stampede occurred as police started turning back people from an overcrowded bridge. That triggered a rumour among the devotees that the bridge had collapsed, and they started running for safety, he said.

India's chief medical officer Dr VB Singh, said 14 women and at least five men had been killed in the stampede. The sex of the remaining victims remain unknown.

District magistrate Vijay Kiran Anand has now announced 200,000 rupees (£2,460) in compensation will be given to the families of the deceased, according to the Times of India.

One of the event's organisers, Raj Bahadur, told the Press Trust of India news agency that police started turning people back from an overcrowded bridge, which sparked a rumour that it was broken causing people to run for safety.

A government spokesman said that the situation in Chandauli was being monitored and all necessary measures was being taken, according to the Times of India.

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 minimal safety or crowd control measures.

In October 2013, a stampede in Madhya Pradesh state in central India killed more than 110 people, mostly women and children.