More than 230 people were killed and hundreds more injured when a passenger train derailed and hit two other trains in eastern India on Friday, officials said, a train crash whose toll was exceptionally high even by the standards of a nation with a long history of deadly crashes.
The incident in Odisha state shocked India, now the world’s most populous country, and reignited long-standing questions about security problems in a system that carries more than eight billion people a year — roughly equivalent to the world population. The country has invested heavily in the system in recent years, but it has not yet been enough to overcome decades of neglect.
Odisha Chief Secretary Pradeep Jena said on Twitter earlier on Saturday that 233 people had been killed in the crash and another 900 injured. Officials said they expected the budget to continue to rise.
By dawn, rescue teams with dogs and cutting equipment were working to free the wounded trapped in the wreckage. Officials said 115 ambulances had been mobilized and all nearby hospitals were on standby.
The state government, home to some 45 million people, has declared a day of mourning after India’s worst train disaster in two decades. Dozens of trains have been cancelled. Ashwini Vaishnaw, minister of railways, said on Twitter that teams from the Air Force and the National Disaster Response Force were mobilized to help.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised « all possible assistance » for the victims and offered his condolences.
« In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families, » Modi said he wrote on Twitter. « May the wounded recover soon. »
The crash occurred when several carriages of a Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express train derailed and collided with a second passenger train, according to a statement from South Eastern Railway. Local officials said the tangle eventually involved a third train carrying goods.
Ashok Samal, a shopkeeper, he told the Hindustan Times who was finishing his day near the railway in his village of Bahanaga on Friday when he heard a deafening noise, ran onto the platform on the main line between Kolkata and Chennai and saw a pile of mangled wagons.
« There were loud screams and blood everywhere, » he told the newspaper, adding that he saw people trapped under the coaches and people calling for help.
Mr. Vaishnaw, the Minister of Railways, told reporters that he had ordered an investigation to determine the cause of the crash.
« Our immediate focus is rescue and relief, » he said from the crash site. « We will know more after the investigation. »
The crash was the nation’s deadliest since at least the 1999 crash in the eastern state of West Bengal that killed 285 people.
India, a nation of about 1.4 billion people, has one of the most extensive rail systems in the world, with more than 40,000 miles of track, enough to wrap around the earth about one and a half times.
In 2014 alone, there were more than 27,000 train-related deaths, according to the country’s National Crime Records Bureau. That figure includes instances where people have been hit while walking on tracks or have fallen from moving trains.
Passenger safety has come under scrutiny in India in recent years.
In 2012, a committee looking into rail network safety cited « a bleak picture of underperformance largely due to scarce infrastructure and resources ». He recommended a number of urgent measures, including upgrading tracks, repairing bridges, removing road level crossings and replacing old coaches with safer ones that better protect passengers in the event of an accident.
Since then the government has invested heavily in renovating and modernizing old trains and tracks. But in a system weakened by years of neglect, problems persist.
Indian news outlets reported that when word of the latest incident got out, the desperate relatives went to Howrah station in West Bengal, where one of the trains was bound, to find out the status of their loved ones.
In Howrah, a man, Sapan Chowdhury, he told the Indian Express he was relieved to discover his 23-year-old daughter was alive, although she had been injured by shards of glass.
Others haven’t been so lucky.
Victoria Kim contributed report.