Balasore/Howrah: At least 261 people were killed and more than 900 injured in a horrific train crash on Friday evening in Odisha involving the Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express and a goods train.
It is learnt that the death toll is likely to go up as the railway started restoration work after completing the rescue operation.
Army columns were rushed in and Air Force helicopters deployed for relief and rescue operations for passengers injured in the triple train crash site at Bahana Nagar in Odisha, a Defence official said.
Officials said several coaches of the 12864 Bengaluru-Howrah train en route to Howrah derailed at Bahanagar Baazar in Balasore district and fell on the adjacent tracks.
"These derailed coaches collided with 12841 Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express; its coaches derailed too," a senior official said.
A goods train was also involved in the accident as some of the coaches of the Coromandel Express hit the goods wagons after getting derailed, the official said.
The accident happened around 7 pm, he said.
Railway spokesman Amitabh Sharma, however, told PTI Video that the Coromandel express derailed first, and it's 10-12 coaches fell on the path of the Bengaluru-Howrah express, which then jumped off the tracks.
The two differing versions could not be immediately corroborated.
Officials said that all private and government hospitals were put on alert in the nearby districts, including state capital Bhubaneswar.
A PTI reporter at the spot said several people were trapped under the derailed coaches; locals were assisting emergency services personnel to rescue the trapped persons but darkness was hindering the operation.
The local villagers were the first to reach the site to try and help the passengers, pulling out the wounded and the dead from bogies. Some of the coaches were nothing but a mangled heap of steel, according to eyewitness accounts.
A passenger, Rupam Banerjee, told newspersons that the local residents really went out on a limb not only helping to pull out people but retrieve the luggage and providing water.
Gas cutters are being used to open bogies and the toilets in the coaches to rescue people. Some of the scenes at the site were too gory to describe, said another passenger, who added that most people who were trapped by the accident have been rescued.
Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw rushed to the accident site while Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik reached the spot later on Saturday.
"Rushing to the site in Odisha. My prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured and condolences to the bereaved families.Rescue teams mobilised from Bhubaneswar and Kolkata. NDRF, state govt teams and airforce also mobilised. Will take all hands required for the rescue ops," he tweeted.
He announced ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh for the deceased, Rs 2 lakh for those grievously injured and Rs 50,000 for those who got minor injuries.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi too expressed his distress. According to reports, he will visit the accident spot and injured at Cuttack hospital,
"Distressed by the train accident in Odisha. In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon. Spoke to Railway Minister @AshwiniVaishnaw and took stock of the situation. Rescue ops are underway at the site of the mishap and all possible assistance is being given to those affected," he tweeted.
Four units of the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF), three units of NDRF and 60 ambulances were working to rescue the injured, officials said.
The Odisha government has issued helpline 06782-262286. The railway helplines are 033-26382217 (Howrah), 8972073925 (Kharagpur), 8249591559 (Balasore) and 044- 25330952 (Chennai).
Expressing concern over the accident, in which a large number of people from West Bengal were involved, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she was monitoring the situation along with the chief secretary and other officials.
West Bengal Chief Secretary HK Dwivedi added that the state was sending a team led by minister Manas Bhunia and MP Dola Sen to the spot.
(With agency inputs)