By Joe Middleton
At least 233 people were killed and hundreds taken to hospital after two passenger trains crashed in India, making the rail accident the country’s deadliest in more than a decade.
Nearly 500 police officers and 75 ambulances were sent to the crash site in Balasore district in the country’s eastern state of Odisha on Friday.
Rescuers were attempting to free 200 people feared trapped in the wreckage, said DB Shinde, administrator of the district.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said he was “distressed” by the incident and that “all possible assistance” is being given to those affected.
“Distressed by the train accident in Odisha. In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon.
“Spoke to Railway Minister @AshwiniVaishnaw and took stock of the situation. Rescue ops are underway at the site of the mishap and all possible assistance is being given to those affected,” he said in a post on Twitter.
The Howrah Superfast Express got derailed and became entangled with the Coromandel Express, South Eastern Railway authorities confirmed in a statement.
Amitabh Sharma, a railroad ministry spokesperson, said 10 to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the coaches fell onto a nearby track.
It was hit by another passenger train coming from the opposite direction. Up to three coaches of the second train also got derailed. The collision is a “grave accident”, HK Dwivedi, West Bengal’s chief secretary told reporters.
“I can’t comment on the details right now and casualty figures. I was in Delhi and rushing to the accident site,” Archana Joshi, general manager for South Eastern Railways, said.
Ms Joshi said a large number of injured were being shifted to hospitals. “Railway rescue teams from Kharagpur and other nearby stations have already reached the site. Relief and rescue are under way.”
Rescue teams have been mobilised from Odisha’s Bhubaneswar and Kolkata in West Bengal, federal minister for railways Ashwini Vaishnaw said in a tweet. The death toll is expected to rise, Odisha’s chief secretary Pradeep Jena said.
The National Disaster Response Force, state government teams, and the air force had also mobilised to respond to the incident, he added.
Early on Saturday morning, Reuters video footage showed police officials moving bodies covered in white cloths off the railway tracks.
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 7pm 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 Mr 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.
On Friday, hundreds of young people lined up outside a government hospital in Odisha’s Soro to donate blood.
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 the worst train accident in India‘s history.
Most train accidents are blamed on human error or outdated signalling equipment.
Additional reporting by agencies