India’s deadliest crash in 20 years claims 288 lives

Published June 4, 2023
This screengrab shows people and rescue workers gathering at the site of a three-train collision near Balasore, in the eastern state of Odisha, on Saturday.—AFP
This screengrab shows people and rescue workers gathering at the site of a three-train collision near Balasore, in the eastern state of Odisha, on Saturday.—AFP

BALASORE: The death toll from India’s horrific three-train collision has jumped to 288, with hundreds more injured, as rescue effort was declared over on Saturday evening.

Wreckage debris was piled high at the crash site near Balasore, in the eastern state of Odisha, where some carriages had been tossed far from the tracks and others flipped over entirely in what comes as India’s deadliest rail accident in more than 20 years.

Smashed train compartments were torn open in the impact late on Friday, leaving blood-stained holes in their sides.

Researcher Anubhav Das, 27, was in the last carriage of one of the trains when he heard “screeching, horrifying sounds coming from a distance”. His coach stayed up­right and he jumped out unhurt after it ground to a halt.

“I saw bloodied scenes, mangled bodies and one man with a severed arm being desperately helped by his injured son,” he said.

No one responsible would be spared, says Modi; PM Shehbaz, FM Bilawal express condolences...

“I lost count of the bodies before leaving the site. Now I feel almost guilty.”

The disaster began when an express train running north from India’s tech hub Bengaluru to Kolkata dera­iled, falling onto the adjacent southbound track on Friday night. Minutes later, the Coromandal Express he­a­ding from Kolkata to Chennai smashed into the wreckage, some of its coa­c­hes also colliding with a goods train parked alongside.

The rescue effort was declared over on Saturday evening after emergency personnel had combed the mangled wreckage for survivors and laid scores of bodies out under white sheets beside the tracks.

“All the bodies and injured passengers have been removed from the accident site,” said an official from the Balasore emergency control room.

More deaths feared

Sudhanshu Sarangi, director general of Odisha fire services, said the death toll stood at 288, but was expected to go higher, potentially approaching 380.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the crash site and injured passengers being treated in hospital and said “no one responsible” for the train crash would be spared.

“It’s a sad moment,” he told state broadcaster Doordarshan.

Odisha state’s chief secretary Pradeep Jena confirmed that about 900 injured people had been hospitalised.

Rescue teams including from the National Disaster Response Force and the military were deployed, while the railways ministry announced an investigation.

Pakistan grieved over loss

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed deep grief and sorrow over the loss of lives in a train accident in India. In a tweet, he said, “Deeply saddened by the loss of hundreds of lives in a train accident in India. I extend my heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families who lost their loved ones in this tragedy.” He also prayed for the speedy recovery of those injured in the accident.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also expressed condolences with the families of the injured.

India has seen several disasters over the years, the worst of them in 1981 when a train derailed while crossing a bridge in Bihar and plunged into the river below, killing between 800 and 1,000 people.

Friday’s crash ranks as its third-worst, and the deadliest since 1995, when two express trains collided in Firozabad, near Agra, killing more than 300 people.In a condolence message, Pope Francis said he was “deeply saddened” by the “immense loss of life” and offered prayers for the “many injured”.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2023

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