Search and rescue efforts continued on Sunday following India’s most devastating train accident in over twenty years, with early reports suggesting signal failure as the likely cause.
The disaster on Friday claimed at least 288 lives when a passenger train derailed and collided with another near Balasore district in the eastern state of Odisha. An additional five bodies were retrieved near the crash site on Sunday.
“With each passing moment, we don’t know how many more bodies will be found,” a local healthcare worker lamented.
Indian Railways, a state-run monopoly transporting over 13 million passengers daily, has struggled with safety due to its aging infrastructure.
With an upcoming election looming, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the disaster site on Saturday. He conferred with rescue workers, surveyed the wreckage, and comforted some of the nearly 1,200 injured victims.
According to the South Eastern Railway, a preliminary report points to signal failure as the accident’s cause.
The catastrophe unfolded when a passenger train derailed from the main line onto a side track, colliding with a stationary freight train. This initial collision led to a subsequent derailment and collision with another oncoming train, a railway official explained anonymously. The passenger trains were reportedly moving at around 130kph (81 mph).
As heavy machinery worked to clear the damaged tracks and wreckage, relatives anxiously waited for news.
Baisakhi Dhar from West Bengal state arrived on-site after the police contacted her, searching for her missing husband, Nikhil Dhar.
Rescue efforts involve more than 1,000 people, as reported by the Railway Ministry on Twitter.
“By Wednesday morning, we aim to complete the entire restoration work and tracks operational,” Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw announced.
A business center nearby, now functioning as a makeshift identification point for victims, witnessed a scene of profound grief as dozens of relatives waited in anticipation.
Kanchan Choudhury, 49, mourned the loss of her husband. She reported that four out of five people from her village traveling on the train were receiving treatment for injuries, while her husband was confirmed dead.
Families of the deceased are to receive one million Indian rupees ($12,000) in compensation, Vaishnaw stated on Saturday. Those seriously injured will receive 200,000 INR, while minor injuries will be compensated with 50,000 INR.
Condolences to the victims of the tragic accident came from world leaders, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, US President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and French President Emmanuel Macron.