Over 100 dead bodies remain unclaimed after Indian rail disaster

Published June 6, 2023
A man enters a deep freezer truck filled with dead bodies to try and identify a family member killed after a multiple train collision in Balasore, at a hospital in Bhubaneswar in the eastern state of Odisha, India on June 6. — Reuters
A man enters a deep freezer truck filled with dead bodies to try and identify a family member killed after a multiple train collision in Balasore, at a hospital in Bhubaneswar in the eastern state of Odisha, India on June 6. — Reuters

Indian authorities made fervent appeals to families on Tuesday to help identify over 100 unclaimed bodies kept in hospitals and mortuaries after 275 people were killed in the country's deadliest rail crash in over two decades.

The disaster struck on Friday, when a passenger train hit a stationary freight train, jumped the tracks and hit another passenger train passing in the opposite direction near the district of Balasore in the eastern state of Odisha.

Following non-stop efforts to rescue survivors and clear and repair the track, trains resumed running over that section of the line on Sunday night.

Till Monday evening around 100 bodies were yet to be identified, a senior state health department official told Reuters.

Bijay Kumar Mohapatra, health director of Odisha, said authorities were trying to source iced containers to help preserve the bodies.

“Unless they are identified, a post mortem cannot be done,” Mohapatra said, explaining that under Odisha state regulations no autopsy can be conducted on an unclaimed body until 96 hours had passed.

At state capital Bhubaneswar's biggest hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), large television screens displayed pictures of the dead to help desperate families who are scouring hospitals and mortuaries for friends and relatives.

A detailed list was made of distinguishing features for each body, but relatives could first view photographs, however gruesome, to identify missing loved ones, a senior police official told Reuters.

The trains had passengers from several states and officials from seven states — Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh — were in Balasore to help people claim the bodies and take the dead home, the police official added.

India's Railway Board has recommended that the federal Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) take over the probe into the cause of the disaster while a separate inquiry, led by A.M. Chowdhary, commissioner of railway safety for the south-eastern circle, started on Monday.

The CBI team will reach the site on Tuesday and start its investigation.

Railway police filed a case of criminal negligence, without naming any suspects.

A signal failure was the likely cause of the disaster, according to preliminary findings, which indicated the Coromandel Express, heading southbound to Chennai from Kolkata, moved off the main line and entered a loop track a side track used to park trains at 128 kph (80 mph), crashing into the stationary freight train.

That crash caused the engine and first four or five coaches of the Coromandel Express to jump the tracks, topple and hit the last two coaches of the Yeshwantpur-Howrah train heading in the opposite direction at 126 kph on the second main track.

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