At least 207 people were killed, more than 850 more were injured and many others are feared trapped after a horrific three-train collision late Friday in eastern India’s Odisha state, local officials said.
AFP reporters at the scene saw smashed train compartments torn open with blood-stained holes of twisted metal near Balasore, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the state capital Bhubaneswar.
Carriages had flipped over entirely and rescue workers searched to pull out survivors trapped in the mangled wreckage, with scores of bodies laid out under white sheets beside the tracks.
“We have already counted 207 dead and the toll will still go up further,” Sudhanshu Sarangi, director general of Odisha Fire Services, told AFP from the accident site.
“The rescue work is still going at the site and it will take us a few more hours to finish here.”
Odisha state’s chief secretary Pradeep Jena confirmed that about 850 injured people had been sent to hospitals, with rescue work ongoing.
“Our top priority now is rescuing (the passengers) and providing health support to the injured,” he said.
Amitabh Sharma, executive director with the Indian Railways, told AFP that two passenger trains “had an active involvement in the accident” while “the third train, a goods train, which was parked at the site, also got (involved) in the accident”.
India is no stranger to railway accidents and has seen several such incidents in the past, but the scale of the latest crash sparked shock.
One survivor told local TV news reporters that he was sleeping when the accident happened, and woke to find himself trapped under around a dozen fellow passengers, before somehow crawling out of the carriage with only injuries to his neck and arm.
Another TV station showed graphic images of a train car toppled to one side of the track, as residents tried to pull victims to safety.
– Crowded wards –
With so many injured, casualties were carried by both ambulances and buses to any hospital that had space.
“We have prepared all big government and private hospitals from the accident site to the state capital to cater to the injured”, said SK Panda, a spokesperson in Jena’s office in Odisha state.
The spokesperson added that authorities had already rushed “75 ambulances to the site and had also deployed many buses” to transport injured passengers.
At Bhadrak District Hospital, ambulances brought in casualties, with the bloodied and shocked survivors receiving treatment in crowded wards.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “distressed by the train accident”.
“In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon”, Modi said on Twitter, adding that he had spoken to railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw to take “stock of the situation”.
Vaishnaw said that he was rushing to the accident site, with rescue teams mobilised, including the National Disaster Response Force and air force.
“Will take all hands required for the rescue ops,” he said on Twitter.
Despite the latest crash, railway safety — thanks to massive new investments and upgrades in technology — has improved significantly in recent years.