Locals pull bodies from India train crash as toll hits 61

MITHUN MAHATO was fast asleep on an overnight train before an enormous jolt awakened him and he panicked because his coach was flipping over.

He lay with his leg broken for five hours, crushed under dead bodies of other passengers as he waited for help.

The powerful crash between two express trains at a station in eastern India early yesterday morning killed 61 people and injured scores more, many of whom are now critical. The force of the crash was so intense the roof of one car was thrust onto an overpass above the tracks.

Accidents are common on India’s sprawling rail network, one of the world’s largest, with most blamed on poor maintenance and human error. An investigation into the cause was started.

It was the second major train crash in the state of West Bengal in the past two months. On May 28, a passenger train derailed and was hit by an oncoming cargo train in a crash that killed 145 people. Authorities blamed sabotage by Maoist rebels for that crash.

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, who rushed to the site, raised the possibility that yesterday’s crash could have been another case of sabotage. But there was no immediate indication that rebels were to blame, and railway officials said the cause of the crash was unclear.

The collision happened at about 2am on Sunday when the fast-moving Uttarbanga Express slammed into the Vananchal Express as it was leaving the platform at Sainthia station, about 200km north of Calcutta.

Two passenger cars and a luggage car of the Vananchal Express were destroyed, leaving a tangle of twisted metal. The passenger cars were reserved for those on the cheapest tickets and such carriages are usually packed to capacity.

Local residents climbing through the debris searching for survivors were later joined by rescue workers using heavy equipment to cut through the metal.

Rescuers recovered 61 bodies from the crash site and at least 125 other people were injured, said Surajit Kar Purkayastha, a top police official. The two drivers of the Uttarbanga Express were among the dead. Rescue teams arrived about three hours after the accident, a local resident said. Before that locals scrambled to help survivors out of the trains and to pull out bodies.

“For many hours it was just the local residents helping and it was very difficult to help without any equipment,” an unidentified man told NDTV television channel.

A police official told NDTV, however, rescue workers reached the crash site within an hour.


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