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Stampede at Hindu Festival Kills 19 in Northern India

Hindu pilgrims hold religious flags and walk on a crowded bridge after a stampede on the same bridge on the outskirts of Varanasi, India, Oct. 15, 2016.

Police in northern India say a stampede early Saturday outside a Hindu temple has killed at least 19 people.

The stampede happened as hundreds of devotees of Indian guru Jai Gurudev gathered in Varanasi, a Hindu holy town in Uttar Pradesh state, a place known for its temples.

Police officer S.K. Bhagat said organizers expected about 3,000 people to attend the ceremony, but more than 70,000 turned out.

Police started turning back people from an overcrowded bridge, triggering a rumor among the devotees that the bridge had collapsed and causing throngs of people to run for safety.

Television footage showed colorful clothing piled up with police officers trying to clear debris.

"There was a lot of chaos. All of us were pushed and shoved. Many people have died including my mother," a witness told reporters as rescue efforts were underway.

Several people were injured, some seriously. They were taken to local hospitals while authorities rushed to the site to assess the situation.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was hosting a meeting of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries in the coastal state of Goa, expressed his condolences to the victims and their families.

"I have spoken to officials and asked them to ensure all possible help to those affected," Modi tweeted.

Stampedes at religious festivals are common in India where massive crowds often overwhelm security and control measures.

Last July, 27 people died in southern India as tens of thousands of pilgrims rushed to bathe in the Godavari River during a festival.

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