Rescuers have found no more survivors in the overturned and mangled wreckage of two passenger trains that derailed in eastern India, killing more than 280 people and injuring hundreds in one of the train crashes the country’s deadliest in decades, officials said on Saturday.
Chaotic scenes erupted on Friday night as rescuers climbed to the top of wrecked trains to open doors and windows with cutting torches.
The death toll rose steadily throughout the night. Dozens of bodies, covered in white sheets, lay on the ground near the tracks as residents and rescuers rushed to free the hundreds of people trapped in the carriages under the twisted metal and broken glass. Army soldiers and air force helicopters have joined the effort in Odisha state.
An Associated Press photographer saw bodies still entangled in a badly mangled coach as rescuers struggled to retrieve them working in the searing heat with temperatures reaching up to 35 degrees Celsius (96 degrees Fahrenheit).
“At 10 p.m. (Friday), we were able to rescue the survivors. After that it was a matter of picking up dead bodies,” Sudhanshu Sarangi, director of the fire and emergency department of the city, told The Associated Press. State of Odisha. “It’s very, very tragic. I’ve never seen anything like this in my career.”
At least 280 bodies were recovered overnight and Saturday morning, he said. About 900 people were injured and the cause is under investigation.
The accident came at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is focusing on upgrading the British colonial-era rail network in India, which has become the world’s most populous country with 1.42 billion people. residents. Despite the government’s efforts to improve rail safety, several hundred accidents occur each year on Indian Railways, the largest railway network under one management in the world.
Modi traveled to the crash site and spent half an hour reviewing the relief effort and speaking to rescue officials. He was seen giving instructions over the phone to officials in New Delhi.
Later, he went to a hospital where he walked around asking doctors about the treatment of the injured and talking to some of them, moving from bed to bed in a ward.
Modi told reporters it was a sad moment and he felt the pain of those who suffered from the crash. He said the government will do everything possible to help them and strictly punish those responsible.
Modi was due to inaugurate a high-speed train from Goa to Mumbai on Saturday, equipped with a collision avoidance system. The event was canceled after Friday’s accident. The trains that derailed did not have this system.
Amitabh Sharma, a spokesman for the Ministry of Railways, said the salvage work was nearing completion. Rail authorities will begin removing the wreckage to repair the track and resume train operations, he said.
DB Shinde, a district administrator, said only five to six bodies remained trapped under a damaged coach and were difficult to recover.
“We have deployed a heavy crane. Once we pull them out, the rescue work will be complete,” Shinde said.
About 200 of the seriously injured people have been transferred to specialist hospitals in other towns in Odisha, said PK Jena, the state’s top administrative official. Another 200 were released after receiving medical treatment and the rest were being treated at local hospitals, he added. Dozens of people also showed up to donate blood.
“The challenge now is to identify the bodies. Wherever relatives are able to provide evidence, the bodies are handed over after autopsies. If they are not identified, we may need to do a DNA test and other protocols,” he said.
Ten to 12 carriages from a train derailed and debris from some of the mangled carriages fell onto a nearby track, according to Sharma. The debris was hit by another passenger train coming from the opposite direction, causing up to three cars on the second train to derail, he added.
A third freight train was also involved, the Press Trust of India reported, but there was no immediate confirmation of this from the railway authorities. PTI said some of the derailed passenger cars hit freight train carriages.
The rescue operation was slowed as two railcars were pressed together by the impact of the crash, Jena said.
Officials said 1,200 rescuers worked with 115 ambulances, 50 buses and 45 mobile health units overnight. Saturday has been declared a day of mourning in Odisha.
Villagers said they rushed to the site to evacuate people after hearing a loud noise created by train carriages rolling off the tracks.
“The local people really went out of their way to help us. Not only did they help get people out, but they collected our luggage and brought us water,” survivor Rupam Banerjee said. by PTI.
Passenger Vandana Kaleda said people were falling on top of each other as her trainer shook violently and swerved off the rails.
“As I was coming out of the toilet, all of a sudden the train tilted. I lost my balance. … Everything flipped. People started falling on top of each other and I was shocked and I couldn’t understand what had happened. My mind stopped working,” he added. she says.
Another survivor who did not give his name said he was sleeping when the impact woke him up. He said he saw other passengers with broken limbs and disfigured faces.
The collision involved two trains, the Coromandel Express traveling from Howrah in the state of West Bengal to Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu and the Howrah Superfast Express traveling from Bengaluru in Karnataka to Howrah, officials said. It was not immediately clear who derailed first.
Ashwini Vaishnaw, India’s railways minister, said a high-level investigation would be carried out. The political opposition criticized the government and called on Vaishnaw to resign.
In August 1995, two trains collided near New Delhi, killing 358 people in one of India’s worst rail accidents.
In 2016, a passenger train slid off the tracks between the cities of Indore and Patna, killing 146 people.
Most rail accidents are blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment.
More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India every day, traveling 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) of track.
Sharma and Pathi reported from New Delhi. Associated Press reporter Chonchui Ngashangva in New Delhi contributed to this report.