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Eyewitnesses recall ‘horrific and heart

Aug 01, 2023

Eyewitnesses recalled "horrific and heart-wrenching" scenes after two passenger locomotives derailed in India, killing nearly 300 people and injuring hundreds more in one of the country's deadliest train crashes in decades.

The accident, which happened about 220km (137 miles) southwest of the eastern city of Kolkata on Friday night, led to a chaotic scene as rescuers climbed atop the mangled trains to break open doors and windows using cutting torches to free survivors.

"The dead bodies were lying all over the tracks, people were screaming for help. This was my worst nightmare and the images will haunt me for life," Santosh Jain, a passenger on one of the affected trains, told The Indian Express.

Such was the impact that one of the coaches went flying over another and hit a local house.

"A coach had even rammed the boundary wall of a college building near our house," Manoj Baliyan, who ran a shop in the area, told NDTV.

"The local people really went out on a limb to help us. They not only helped in pulling out people, but retrieved our luggage and got us water," Rupam Banerjee, a survivor, told Press Trust of India.

Passenger Vandana Kaleda said people were "falling on each other" as her coach shook violently and veered off the tracks.

"As I stepped out of the washroom, suddenly the train tilted. I lost my balance... Everything went topsy turvy. People started falling on each other and I was shocked and could not understand what happened. My mind stopped working," she told local news.

"Families crushed away, limbless bodies and a bloodbath on the tracks," surviving passenger Anubha Das told local news channels.

Another witness involved in rescue operations said the screams and wails of the injured and the relatives of those killed were disturbing. "It was horrific and heart-wrenching," he said.

"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."

About 900 people were injured in the accident in Balasore district in the eastern state of Odisha, said PK Jena, the state's top administrative official. The cause is under investigation.

At least 280 bodies were recovered overnight and into Saturday morning, Sudhanshu Sarangi, director of Odisha's fire and emergency department, told The Associated Press. He said more than 800 injured passengers were taken to various hospitals with many in a critical condition.

Ten to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell onto a nearby track, said Amitabh Sharma, a railroad ministry spokesperson. The debris was hit by another passenger train coming from the opposite direction, causing up to three coaches of the second train to also derail, he added.

A third train carrying freight was also involved, PTI reported, but there was no immediate confirmation of that from railroad authorities. PTI said some of the derailed passenger coaches hit cars from the freight train.

Scores of bodies, covered by white sheets, lay on the ground near the train tracks as locals and rescuers raced to help survivors.

Officials said 1,200 rescuers worked with 115 ambulances, 50 buses and 45 mobile health units through the night at the accident site. Saturday was declared as a day of mourning in Odisha as the state's chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, reached the district to meet injured passengers.

Ashwini Vaishnaw, India's railway minister, said a high-level investigation would be carried out, as the political opposition criticised the government and called for Mr Vaishnaw to resign.

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.

Additional reporting from agencies