updated 4/9/2006 7:14:15 PM ET 2006-04-09T23:14:15

A stampede at the end of a religious gathering on Sunday to mark the birth of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad left at least 29 women and children dead in southern Pakistan.

The stampede occurred as thousands of women were leaving the Sunni Muslim Faizan-e-Medina center in the port city of Karachi after listening to clerics deliver sermons, said Hanees Billu, a spokesman for the center.

Witnesses said the fatal crush happened inside the center’s compound, when a woman bent down to pick up a young girl who had fallen, causing other people behind her to trip.

“I heard a girl crying for help and a woman stopped to pick her up,” said a 40-year-old woman who identified herself as Zaibunisa.

“When the woman stopped there was a wave of people who stepped over us. Someone pulled me to the side and after I gained consciousness, I was in the hospital,” she said from her hospital bed, where she was being treated for a broken arm.

Hospital officials reported 29 deaths and more than 70 injured.

Blood, shoes and black veils littered the scene of the stampede near the gate to the Islamic center. Administrators of the center barred photographers and reporters from entering the premises to take pictures or interview people.

Billu, of the Dawat-e-Islami missionary group that runs the center, said that more than 10,000 women, many accompanied by children, were at the gathering, part of celebrations leading to the anniversary Tuesday of the birth and the death of Muhammad.

Another Dawat-e-Islami official, Hafiz Hassan Attari, lamented that “numerous innocent lives perished, (but) they embraced martyrdom and we pray for their eternal peace.”

Karachi police official Asif Ijaz Sheikh said that police would investigate the stampede, which appeared to have been an accident.

“We will ask the center’s administration to take steps so that such incidents do not happen in the future,” he said.

Islamic religious events are often marred by stampedes, particularly during the hajj pilgrimage to the cities of Medina and Mecca in Saudi Arabia. More than 360 people died in Mina, outside Mecca, in January, while a 1990 hajj stampede killed 1,426 pilgrims.

Pakistan’s last fatal stampede happened in March 2003 as Shiite Muslims fled a mosque in eastern Pakistan to escape a fire, killing seven.

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