At least 24 people were crushed to death and several others seriously injured in a stampede at a religious gathering in northern India’s holy city of Varanasi on Saturday.

Panic spread as hundreds of Hindu pilgrims tried to cross a bridge to a sacred site in one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, at the heart of the constituency of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Uttar Pradesh.

Millions of Hindus go to Varanasi every year to pray and wash away their sins by taking a dip in the sacred river Ganges.

The stampede took place near the historic Rajghat bridge where hundreds had gathered to pay tribute to their late spiritual leader, Baba Jai Gurudev.

Poor crowd management has been blamed for the tragedy. Thousands had squeezed their way into narrow roads, far more than than normally allowed, according to officials.

Police said the immediate cause of the accident may be a rumor that the bridge was collapsing.

Modi, who was hosting a meeting of BRICS nations in Goa, expressed his condolences to the victims’ families and promised help.

“Deeply saddened by the loss of lives in the stampede in Varanasi. Condolences to the bereaved families. Prayers with those injured,” Modi tweeted.

Television footage showed rescuers among the dead and injured. Shoes, clothes and belongings were scattered around as ambulances ferried victims to hospitals.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav announced compensation of Rs 200,000 (US$2,997) each for kin of those killed in the stampede and Rs 50,000 (USS749) each for the critically injured.