More than 280 killed and hundreds more injured in India rail disaster as rescue operation ends

Officials says the rescue operation at the site of India's worst rail crash in decades has ended with a final tally of more than 280 people dead and hundreds more injured

“By 10 p.m. (on Friday) we were able to rescue the survivors," said Sudhanshu Sarangi, Director of Odisha state's fire and emergency department. "After that it was about picking up dead bodies. This is very, very tragic. I have never seen anything like this in my career."

Chaotic scenes erupted after the derailment on Friday night about 220 kilometres  southwest of Kolkata, as rescuers climbed atop the wrecked trains to break open doors and windows using cutting torches.

About 200 of the severely injured people were transferred to special hospitals in other cities in Odisha, said Pradeep 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.

Amitabh Sharma, a railroad ministry spokesperson, said 10 to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell onto a nearby track. It was hit by another passenger train coming from the opposite direction.

Up to three coaches of the second train also derailed.

AP/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Bodies recovered from passenger trains lay on the track at the site of an accident, in Balasore district, in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, Saturday, June 3, 2023. - AP/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

On Twitter, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his solidarity with the victims and assured that rescue operations were underway.

On Saturday, 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.

An investigation has been launched to determine the cause of the accident.

The tragedy comes at a time when Prime Minister Modi is concentrating on the modernisation of the British colonial-era railroad network in India. On Saturday, he was meant to inaugurate a high-speed train connecting Goa and Mumbai equipped with a collision avoidance system. In light of Friday's incident, the event was cancelled.

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.