Rescuers found no more survivors in the overturned and mangled wreckage of two passenger trains that derailed in eastern India, killing more than 280 people and injuring hundreds in one of the country’s deadliest rail crashes in decades, officials said Saturday.
Chaotic scenes erupted after the derailment on Friday night about 220 kilometers (137 miles) southwest of Kolkata, as rescuers climbed atop the wrecked trains to break open doors and windows using cutting torches.
The death toll rose steadily throughout the night.
Scores of bodies, covered by white sheets, lay on the ground near the tracks as locals and rescuers raced to help survivors.
Army soldiers and air force helicopters joined the effort.
“By 10 p.m. (on Friday) we were able to rescue the survivors. After that it was about picking up dead bodies,” Sudhanshu Sarangi, director of Odisha state’s fire and emergency department, told The Associated Press.
“This is very, very tragic. I have never seen anything like this in my career.”
At least 280 bodies were recovered overnight and into Saturday morning, he said.
About 900 people were injured and the cause was under investigation.
The accident occurred at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is focussing on the modernization of the British colonial-era railroad network in India, which has become the world’s most populous country with 1.42 billion. 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.
Modi flew to the site and spent half an hour examining the crash scene. He later left for the Odisha state capital to meet with the injured recuperating in hospitals there.
Modi on Saturday was supposed to inaugurate a high-speed train connecting Goa and Mumbai that is equipped with a collision avoidance system. The event was canceled after Friday’s accident. The trains that derailed did not have that system.
Amitabh Sharma, a Railroad Ministry spokesperson, said the rescue work was near completion. Rail authorities will start removing the wreckage to repair the track and resume train operations, he said.
About 200 of the severely injured people were transferred to specialty hospitals in other cities in Odisha, said P.K. Jena, the state’s top administrative official. Another 200 were discharged after receiving medical care and the rest were being treated in local hospitals, he added. Scores of people also showed up to donate blood.
“The challenge now is identifying the bodies. Wherever the relatives are able to provide evidence, the bodies are handed over after autopsies. If not identified, maybe we have to go for a DNA test and other protocols,” he said.
Ten to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell onto a nearby track, according to Sharma. 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.