More than 290 people have died in India’s deadliest rail accident in over two decades after a passenger train went off the tracks and hit another one in the eastern Odisha state. Over 900 have also been injured in the train derailment that occurred on Friday evening.
Video footage showed chaotic scenes at the site of the accident as rescuers climbed atop the wrecked trains to break open doors and waded through piles of debris and wreckage to pull out bodies and free people.
The death toll rose steadily throughout the night as scores of dead bodies, covered by white sheets, lay on the ground near the train tracks as locals and rescuers raced to help survivors. Army soldiers and air force helicopters joined the relief effort along with local authorities.
The cause of the crash remains unclear but Indiaâ€™s Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw told reporters that a â€œhigh-level inquiryâ€ has been ordered into the collision.
According to media reports, the derailment of 10 to 12 coaches of the Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express caused them to fall onto the opposite track. Subsequently, the Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express collided with the derailed coaches, leading to the derailment of three to four of its own coaches. Adding to the tragedy, a goods train was also involved in the crash.
Surviving passenger Anubha Das said he would never forget the scene. “Families crushed away, limbless bodies and a bloodbath on the tracks,” he said.
Another survivor also said that severed limbs were scattered over the ripped metal wreckage.
“I was sleeping when the train derailed. Some 10-15 people fell over me. When I came out of the coach, I saw limbs scattered all around, a leg here, a hand there…someone’s face was disfigured,” the survivor said.
Despite government efforts to improve rail safety, several hundred accidents occur every year on India’s railways, the largest train network under one management in the world.
In August 1995, two trains collided near New Delhi, killing 358 people in one of the worst train accidents in India.
In 2016, a passenger train slid off the tracks between the cities of Indore and Patna, killing 146 people.
Most train accidents are blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment.
More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India every day, traveling on 64,000 kilometers of track.