A get-together during the festive season in Nepal turned to stark tragedy early on Wednesday when 23 Christians, including an Indian, were crushed to death in a church instituted by an Indian convert in eastern Nepal.
Most of the victims were women who died when a three-storey bamboo structure, built to accommodate Protestant Christians of the El Shaddai sect in Dharan town in eastern Nepal's Sunsari district, gave way around 12.30 a.m.
"We have recovered 23 bodies, while 63 people have been hurt and have been admitted to hospital," police official Raj Kumar Pandey told IANS.
The gathering was held at the end of Dashain, Nepal's biggest festival, as a festive get-together for Christians from eastern Nepal and Indian towns across the border.
Nearly 2,000 people had assembled at the Zion Prayer Hall and around 400 people were sleeping in the makeshift building when it collapsed.
Besides 17 women, four boys and girls were also killed, while six were men, police said.
Amongst the dead was Nika Rai, a 35-year-old woman from Guathan in Siliguri in India's West Bengal state. Two Indians were injured -- Karma Chodin and Sarada Rai, both of whom are from Sikkim.
Rescue efforts were initially hampered as all government offices are closed till Wednesday in Nepal to celebrate Dashain.
Nepal, once a Hindu kingdom, became secular three years ago.
The El Shaddai sect was founded by Bhakt Singh, a Punjab boy who went abroad to study engineering and became a convert, though initially, according to his own admission, he was both anti-Christian and anti-Muslim.
Singh passed away in Chennai about three years ago but the sect he founded flourishes in Nepal with several churches, including in the capital city Kathmandu.
Most of its followers are from the Indian and British armies.