Twin car bombs killed at least 31 people and wounded 95 on Friday in Iraq's holy city of Kerbala as hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite visitors observed a major mourning, hospital sources said.
"We were walking back home in groups after we finished our rites and all of a sudden a huge explosion happened. I saw the balls of fire and smoke rise from the scene ahead," said visitor Muhammad Nasir, 31, a day labourer being treated at a hospital.
"People were running away. Security forces cordoned the scene off."
Mehdi al-Fatlawi, a medic at the city's al-Hussein hospital, said the hospital had been flooded with victims.
"Bodies in plastic bags, some beyond recognition, and many others wounded. The hospital wards were full of wounded," he said.
Police said the bombings occurred to the east of the city, 80 km (50 miles) south of Baghdad. Details were sketchy as most officials were observing Arbain, which marks the end of 40 days of mourning for Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who died in a 7th century battle at Kerbala.
Visitors in Kerbala said they were fearful of the arduous journey home after the rite finishes on Friday, despite the deployment of tens of thousands of troops and police.
"I have concerns and expect to be targeted on the return route," said Balasim Khalaf, 51, a resident of Balad, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad. "This is our destiny but it won't stop us from conducting our rituals."
"The visit has become a hell for us. We don't know what to do, whether to stay or return," said Aqeel al-Magsosi, 32, who was in Kerbala with his wife and two children.