Train crash: For rescue workers, a night of blood, sweat and tears
Harried rescuers worked through the night to extricate survivors and the dead from the mangled wreck of the three trains in Odisha which crashed in a horrific sequence killing at least 233 people in one of the worst such tragedies in India.
Around 900 people were also injured, many seriously, in the deadly accident near Bahanaga Baazar station in Balasore district, 250 km south of Kolkata and 170 km north of Bhubaneswar, around 7 pm on Friday.
Several coaches of the 12864 Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, on way to Howrah, derailed and fell on adjacent tracks. These were hit by the 12841 Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, and its coaches capsized too, some of them hitting the wagons of a stationary goods train.
Gas and electric cutters were used to extricate the bodies from the derailed coaches. Disaster management personnel and firemen were busy at work even as dawn broke on Saturday near a small station on the east coast.
“Some of the scenes at the site were too gory to describe,” said a passenger who survived.
Railway tracks were almost destroyed at the spot as the mangled coaches lay strewn all over. Some had mounted on other coaches while a few turned turtle due to the sheer impact.
Pijush Poddar of Berhampore in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district was travelling to Tamil Nadu in the Coromandel Express to join work there when the accident happened.
“We were all jolted and suddenly saw the train bogie turn on one side. Many passengers were thrown out … by the derailment. When we managed to crawl out, we found bodies lying all around,” he told reporters.
Locals rushed to the spot after hearing consecutive loud bangs, only to find the derailed coaches turned into a mangled heap.
“The local people not only helped in pulling out people but retrieved our luggage and got us water,” said Rupam Banerjee, another passenger.
Work continued on Saturday to try and extricate bodies from one toppled coach. “This will push up the death toll significantly,” an Odisha officer warned.
The Balasore district hospital looked like a war zone with the injured lying on stretchers in the corridor and the rooms bursting at its seams with extra beds propped up.
Harried medical staff had difficulties in communicating with some of the injured due to language barriers. A total of 526 victims have been admitted to the Balasore hospital. The other injured were in different hospitals.
Policemen and locals volunteered to donate blood in large numbers.
News reports said the morgue at the hospital was piled with bodies in white shrouds, many yet to be identified.
Hospital officials said relatives were yet to make their way to the town as many train services have been cancelled or delayed due to the accident on what is a busy trunk route.
Officials in Bhubaneswar said 200 ambulances, 50 buses and 45 mobile health units were deployed at the accident site besides 1,200 personnel.
The bodies were taken to the hospitals in all kinds of vehicles including tractors.
Odisha Chief Secretary PK Jena put the latest death toll at 233.
The train crash, the fourth deadliest in India according to available records, prompted the Railway Ministry to order a probe. The inquiry will be led by AM Chowdhary, Commissioner Railway Safety, South East Circle.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik declared a one-day state mourning on Saturday/
All government and private hospitals have been put on alert in the nearby districts, including the AIIMS at Bhubaneswar.
Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw reached the spot and said the focus now was on rescue and relief efforts.
More than 2,000 people gathered at the Balasore Medical College and Hospital at night to help the injured. Many also donated blood.
Chief Secretary Jena said: “Five hundred units of blood collected overnight here at Balasore. Nine hundred units in stock at present. This will help in treating the accident victims. I am personally indebted and grateful to all the volunteers who donated blood for a noble cause.”
The railways announced ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh for the next of kin of the deceased, Rs 2 lakh for those grievously injured and Rs 50,000 for those who suffered minor injuries.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi too expressed his distress and announced additional ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh for the next of kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for the injured.
The Odisha government issued helpline 06782-262286. The railway helplines are 033-26382217 (Howrah), 8972073925 (Kharagpur), 8249591559 (Balasore) and 044- 25330952 (Chennai).
West Bengal Chief Secretary HK Dwivedi said the state was sending a team led by minister Manas Bhunia and MP Dola Sen to the spot.
Eighteen long-distance trains have been cancelled due to the accident, which happened on the Howrah-Chennai main line in the Kharagpur division of the South Eastern Railway.
(With agency inputs)