NEW DELHI— Rescuers have concluded their search in the wreckage of two passenger trains that derailed in eastern India, with no more survivors found.
The devastating accident claimed the lives of over 280 people and left hundreds injured, making it one of the most fatal railway disasters in the country in many years.
The incident occurred approximately 220 kilometers (137 miles) southwest of Kolkata on Friday night.
Following the derailment, chaotic scenes unfolded as rescue workers bravely climbed onto the mangled trains to gain access to the trapped individuals.
They utilized cutting torches to open doors and windows, attempting to save as many lives as possible.
Throughout the night, the number of casualties continued to increase.
Numerous bodies, covered with white sheets, were scattered on the ground close to the tracks, prompting locals and rescuers to swiftly come to the aid of survivors.
The efforts were further augmented by the involvement of army soldiers and air force helicopters, all working together in an attempt to provide assistance and support.
“By 10 p.m. (on Friday) we were able to rescue the survivors. After that it was about picking up dead bodies,” Sudhanshu Sarangi, director of Odisha state’s fire and emergency department, told The Associated Press.
“This is very, very tragic. I have never seen anything like this in my career.”
Overnight and into Saturday morning, the recovery efforts resulted in the retrieval of at least 280 bodies from the accident site. Additionally, approximately 900 people sustained injuries, and an investigation is underway to determine the cause of the tragic incident.
The timing of the accident is significant as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been emphasizing the modernization of India’s British colonial-era railway network. With a population of 1.42 billion, India has the world’s largest train network under a single management.
Despite government initiatives to enhance rail safety, several hundred accidents still occur annually on Indian railways.
Prime Minister Modi visited the site, spending thirty minutes examining the crash scene.
He later traveled to the capital of Odisha state to meet with the injured individuals recovering in hospitals.
The scheduled inauguration of a high-speed train between Goa and Mumbai, equipped with a collision avoidance system, was canceled following Friday’s accident.
The derailed trains did not have such a system.
Amitabh Sharma, a spokesperson for the Railroad Ministry, stated that the rescue work was nearing completion.
Railway authorities will now focus on removing the wreckage, repairing the tracks, and resuming train operations.
Around 200 individuals who sustained severe injuries were transferred to specialized hospitals in other cities within Odisha, as stated by P.K. Jena, the state’s highest administrative official.
Additionally, approximately 200 people were discharged from medical care after receiving treatment, while the remaining injured individuals were being treated in local hospitals.
It is worth noting that numerous individuals voluntarily came forward to donate blood, showing their support and solidarity with the victims.
“The challenge now is identifying the bodies. Wherever the relatives are able to provide evidence, the bodies are handed over after autopsies. If not identified, maybe we have to go for a DNA test and other protocols,” he said.
During the accident, approximately ten to twelve coaches of one train derailed, resulting in debris from the wrecked coaches falling onto an adjacent track, as explained by Sharma.
Subsequently, another passenger train traveling in the opposite direction collided with the debris, causing up to three coaches of the second train to also derail.
According to the Press Trust of India (PTI), a third train carrying freight was reportedly involved, although railroad authorities have not yet confirmed this information.
PTI mentioned that some of the derailed passenger coaches collided with cars from the freight train.
The rescue operation faced challenges due to two train cars being wedged together from the impact of the accident, which slowed down the rescue efforts, as stated by Jena.
Throughout the night, a total of 1,200 rescuers, supported by 115 ambulances, 50 buses, and 45 mobile health units, worked tirelessly to aid the victims. As a mark of respect, Saturday was declared a day of mourning in Odisha.
Local villagers acted promptly upon hearing the loud sound produced by the derailment, rushing to the site to evacuate people and offer assistance.
The local people really went out on a limb to help us. They not only helped in pulling out people, but retrieved our luggage and got us water,” PTI cited Rupam Banerjee, a survivor, as saying.
Passenger Vandana Kaleda recounted the chaos inside her coach, describing how people were falling on each other as the train shook violently and derailed. She shared her shock and confusion as she witnessed the commotion and the train tilting, causing people to lose their balance.
Another survivor, who chose to remain anonymous, stated that he was asleep when the impact jolted him awake.
He observed fellow passengers with broken limbs and disfigured faces, highlighting the severity of the injuries sustained.
The collision involved two trains, namely the Coromandel Express traveling from Howrah to Chennai and the Howrah Superfast Express traveling from Bengaluru to Howrah, although it was not immediately clear which train derailed first.
India’s railway minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, assured that a high-level investigation would be conducted.
However, the political opposition criticized the government and called for Vaishnaw’s resignation.
India has experienced previous catastrophic train accidents, such as the collision near New Delhi in August 1995, which claimed the lives of 358 people, and the derailment between Indore and Patna in 2016, resulting in the deaths of 146 individuals.
Most train accidents in India are attributed to human error or outdated signaling equipment.
Despite this, millions of people rely on the extensive railway network, with over 12 million passengers traveling on 14,000 trains across 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) of track every day.