Two trains derailed in India’s eastern state of Odisha on Friday, killing up to 120 people and injuring hundreds more in an accident that rocked the country, government officials said.
Sudhanshu Sarangi, director general of the Odisha Fire Department, told Reuters that 120 bodies had been found. Odisha Secretary, Pradeep Gina, he said on Twitter Another 850 people were injured.
Indian news reports described horrific scenes as rescue teams with dogs and cutting equipment worked frantically to free injured people trapped in the train wreckage.
The Times of India quoted Amitabh Sharma, a spokesman for the Ministry of Railways, as saying that 10 to 12 coaches of one train derailed and some of the debris then landed on a nearby track, where it collided with another train.
Video footage of the accident site showed stunned onlookers, and Indian news reports said more than 50 ambulances arrived in the area, along with teams of doctors to tend to the injured.
Ashok Samal, a shopkeeper, told The Hindustan Times that he was finishing his day near the railway track in his village of Pahanaga on Friday when he heard a deafening noise, ran to the track on the Kolkata-Chennai main line, and saw a pile of mangled train cars.
“There were wild screams and blood everywhere,” he told the newspaper, adding that he had seen people trapped under coaches and people wailing for help.
Ashwini Vaishnau, the railways minister, said on Twitter that the National Disaster Response Force had been mobilized, along with rescue workers from the Air Force. Dozens of trains have been cancelled.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences via Twitter. “Disturbed by the train accident in Odisha,” he said books. In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. I hope the injured recover soon.”
Mr Vaishnau told ANI that he had ordered an investigation to determine the cause of the crash.
Indian news reports said that as news of the plane crash spread, along with reports of a mounting death toll, desperate relatives went to Howrah station in West Bengal, where one of the trains was headed, anxious to determine the condition of their loved ones.
In Howrah, one man, Saban Chowdhury, told The Indian Express he was relieved to learn his 23-year-old daughter was alive, despite being hit by shards of glass.
India’s trains carry more than 13 million people every day, according to Indian Railways, but the system has been battered by years of neglect. In 2014, there were more than 27,000 train-related deaths, according to the country’s National Crime Records Bureau. In 2012, a panel appointed to review the integrity of the rail network noted a “bleak picture of inadequate performance due to poor infrastructure and resources”.
It recommended a set of urgent measures, including raising track levels, repairing bridges, removing level crossings and replacing old buses with safer ones that provide better protection for passengers in the event of an accident.
Passenger safety, or lack thereof, has come under close scrutiny in India in recent years. In 2016, more than 140 passengers died in a passenger bus derailment near the city of Kanpur.