At least 288 people were killed and more than 850 injured in a horrific three-train collision in India, officials said Saturday, the country’s deadliest rail accident in more than 20 years.
Images from the crash site showed smashed train compartments torn open with blood-stained holes near Balasore, in the eastern state of Odisha.
Carriages had flipped over entirely in the crash late on Friday and rescue workers searched for survivors trapped in the mangled wreckage, with scores of bodies laid out under white sheets beside the tracks.
As dawn broke on Saturday, rescue workers were able to see the full extent of the carnage.
Sudhanshu Sarangi, director general of Odisha Fire Services, said that the death toll stood at 288.
“The rescue work is still going on,” he told AFP from the accident site, adding there were “a lot of serious injuries.”
AFP reporters at the scene on Friday saw carriages overturned as rescue workers searched to pull out survivors from the mangled wreckage, with scores of bodies laid out under white sheets beside the tracks.
India is no stranger to railway accidents and has seen several disasters, 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.
But Friday’s crash is believed to be the worst since the 1990s.
Late Friday, 10 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, and up to three coaches of the second train also derailed, Sharma said.
The Press Trust of India news agency reported that a third train carrying freight was also involved, but there was no immediate confirmation from railroad authorities.
Passenger Vandana Kaleda told the New Delhi Television news channel that she “found people falling on each other” as her coach shook violently and veered off the tracks. She said she was lucky to survive.
Another survivor who did not give his name said he was sleeping when the impact woke him up. He said he saw other passengers with broken limbs and disfigured faces.
Odisha state’s chief secretary Pradeep Jena confirmed that “about 850 injured people have been sent to hospitals”, with rescue work ongoing.
“Our top priority now is rescuing (the passengers) and providing health support to the injured,” he said.
More than 200 people were killed and hundreds injured after multiple trains collided in India on Friday evening, according to a local official, in what has been described as a “violent” crash. @CNN
— The Intellectualist (@highbrow_nobrow) June 2, 2023
Nearly 500 police officers and rescue workers with 75 ambulances and buses responded to the scene, said Jena.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his thoughts were with the bereaved families.
“May the injured recover soon,” tweeted Modi, who said he had spoken to the railway minister and that “all possible assistance” was being offered.
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 signaling equipment.
More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India every day, traveling on 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) of track.