Indian train collision death toll nears 300, another 850 injured

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The death toll from the collision of two Indian passenger trains in Odisha state has surged to 288 and more than 850 are injured, a state government official told AFP on Saturday, making the rail accident the country’s deadliest in more than two decades.

Sudhanshu Sarangi, director general of Odisha Fire Services, also said that “rescue work is still going on” and there were “a lot of serious injuries”, according to AFP.

Chief Secretary Pradeep Jena said on Twitter that over 200 ambulances had been called to the scene of Friday’s accident in Odisha’s Balasore district and 100 additional doctors, on top of 80 already there, had been mobilised.

Early on Saturday morning, Reuters video footage showed police officials moving bodies covered in white cloths off the railway tracks.

“I was asleep,” an unidentified male survivor told NDTV news. “I was woken up by the noise of the train derailing. Suddenly I saw 10-15 people dead. I managed to come out of the coach, and then I saw a lot of dismembered bodies.”

Video footage from Friday showed rescuers climbing up one of the mangled trains to find survivors, while passengers called for help and sobbed next to the wreckage.

The collision occurred at about 19:00 local time (1330 GMT) on Friday when the Howrah Superfast Express, running from Bangalore to Howrah, West Bengal, collided with the Coromandel Express, which runs from Kolkata to Chennai.

Authorities have provided conflicting accounts on which train derailed first to become entangled with the other. The Ministry of Railways said it has initiated an investigation into the incident.

Although Jena and some media reports have suggested a freight train was also involved in the crash, railway authorities have yet to comment on that possibility.

An extensive search-and-rescue operation has been mounted, involving hundreds of fire department personnel and police officers as well as sniffer dogs. National Disaster Response Force teams were also at the site.

On Friday, hundreds of young people lined up outside a government hospital in Odisha’s Soro to donate blood.

According to Indian Railways, its network facilitates the transportation of over 13 million people every day. But the state-run monopoly has had a patchy safety record because of ageing infrastructure.

The state has declared Saturday a day of state mourning as a mark of respect to the victims.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said he was “deeply saddened by the loss of hundreds of lives” in the incident.

In a tweet, he extended his “heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families who lost their loved ones in this tragedy” and prayed for the injured people’s speedy recovery.

Expressing his grief on the “high death toll”, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari offered his condolences to the victims’ families and wished quick recovery to those injured.