At least 280 people have been killed and around 900 injured after two passenger trains collided in the Indian state of Odisha, the country’s deadliest rail accident in more than 20 years.
The Coromandel Express, which runs from Kolkata in West Bengal to Chennai in Tamil Nadu, was traveling at around 160km/h when it collided with a stationary freight train around 7pm on Friday, causing it to derail.
The freight train carriages then collided with two Howrah Superfast Express train coaches, which were traveling in the opposite direction, according to South Eastern Railway, resulting in a fatal pile-up.
Rajesh Kumar, South Eastern Railway’s senior deputy commercial manager, said the Coromandel Express had changed tracks which led to the incident, and the reason would be investigated.
The death toll is expected to rise as more bodies have been recovered from wreckage and overturned cars, Chief State Secretary Pradeep Jena said. More than 200 ambulances have been called to the scene in Balasore district of Odisha and 100 more medics, in addition to the 80 already present, have been mobilised, he added. Around 850 people were taken to hospital.
“Rescue work continues on a war footing,” Jena said. “Medical equipment and additional drugs in the hospitals where the victims are treated are also covered.”
Rescue teams have been mobilized from the capital of Odisha, Bhubaneswar, and Kolkata in West Bengal, said Federal Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, as well as from the National Disaster Response Force, State Government and Air Force teams. Hundreds of firefighters, police and sniffer dogs were also involved.
Footage from the scene showed rescuers climbing the mangled wreckage of one of the trains as they worked frantically through the night to find survivors. Sudhanshu Sarangi, the chief executive of the Odisha Fire Department, said he was able to evacuate 400 injured people from the site and recover around 200 bodies.
Speaking on Saturday morning, after rescue efforts continued for nearly 12 hours, Sarangi said: “We are trying to locate any bodies that may still be trapped under the mangled compartments. Operations will continue for a few more hours.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said the authorities’ priority was “to evacuate the living to hospitals, that is our first concern, to take care of the living”.
At Howrah and Chennai stations, desperate relatives gathered in hopes of hearing from the survivors. A survivor told local TV he was asleep when the crash happened and awoke to find himself trapped under a dozen passengers before crawling out of the car with only injuries to his neck and to the arm.
“When I got off the train, I saw limbs strewn all around, a leg here, a hand there. Someone’s face was disfigured,” he said.
Another witness told Reuters all he could see was “blood, broken limbs and people dying around me”.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “all possible help” was being given to those affected. He tweeted: “In this hour of mourning, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon.
At Bhadrak district hospital, ambulances brought in injured people, with bloodied and shocked survivors receiving treatment in crowded wards. Hundreds of young people lined up outside a government hospital in Soro town in Odisha to donate blood.
Despite government efforts to improve safety and modernize aging infrastructure, several hundred accidents occur on Indian railways each year. With 40,000 miles (64,000 km) of track carrying 13 million passengers on 14,000 trains a day, they are the largest rail network in the world under one management.
Two trains collided near Delhi in August 1995, killing 358 people in the worst rail accident in Indian history. Most rail accidents are blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment.