Many injured in blast near Ganga in Varanasi (Third Lead)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

VARANASI - More than 20 people, including a few foreigners, were injured Tuesday when a powerful blast ripped through the bank of the Ganga during the evening ‘aarti’ ritual watched by hundreds and sparked off a stampede, authorities and witnesses said.

A large number of people had gathered at the Shitla Ghat to watch the floating of earthen lamps on the river when the deafening explosion took place between 6.15 and 6.30 p.m.

Police officials said an explosive device had apparently been concealed in a crevice on the steps leading to the river and where hundreds of men and women were seated.

As several people fell down bleeding and injured, others desperately tried to escape, triggering a stampede that injured more people.

“It was such a powerful blast that we did not even know what had happened,” said Aveek Kumar Jain, who was at the ghat. “Nobody knew what had happened, whether it was a gas cylinder or a bomb.”

Jain said he saw one foreigner injured in the leg.

A man who suffered head wounds told reporters in the hospital that a nearby wall collapsed because of the impact of the blast.

“I was telling my wife to see the river when this massive blast took place,” he said.

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai in New Delhi initially called it a “low intensity blast”, but in no time Uttar Pradesh Police officers classified it as a “medium intensity” explosion.

Pillai said the explosion injured four to five people and the “small stampede” that followed left another 15-20 people injured.

“It is too early to say what caused the explosion. We have issued a general alert to all states and told them to be on high alert,” he said.

Blood was splattered at the site of the blast. Devotees fled from there, leaving behind their belongings. Women wailed in pain and panic, and police officers who rushed to the site desperately tried to bring calm.

Policemen and civilians rushed the injured to the nearest government hospital.

Uttar Pradesh Principal Secretary (Home) U.K. Bansal said that “one or two foreigners” were among the injured.

Additional Director General of Police Brij Lal said they would “work out the case” soon.

“The blast took place when hundreds of people had gathered at the Shitla ghat,” he said.

“It will be premature to make any comment on the nature of the blast. The blast was big enough to cause damage as well as panic and commotion in the entire area,” he said.

Varanasi, about 300 km from Lucknow, is one of the holiest Hindu sites. Twin blasts in the city March 7, 2006 killed 20 people and injured around 100.

Filed under: Terrorism

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