ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — At least 30 people were killed in a stampede at the end of a religious congregation for women in the southern port city of Karachi, police and hospital officials said Sunday. Scores of women and children were also injured.

About 10,000 women had gathered at an Islamic center, Faizan-e-Madina, in the Sabzi Mandi neighborhood of Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, which will be celebrated Tuesday.

Witnesses said the stampede began as the vast gathering was breaking up about 4:45 p.m. Initially, rumors that a bomb had caused the stampede raised fears of a terrorist attack, but the police quickly discounted that possibility.

Instead, reports in the Pakistani news media said a girl fell down and waves of people were blocked when she was being helped.

Some tried to force their way out, causing chaos and then panic.

"I heard a girl crying for help, and a woman stopped to pick her up," said a 40-year-old woman being treated for a broken arm, who identified herself as Zaibunisa, The Associated Press reported. "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."

At least 26 women and four children were killed. Dozens of ambulances removed the dead and injured, while screaming survivors desperately hunted for their children. The local authorities declared the situation an emergency. Most of the women died of suffocation and internal injuries, medical officials said.