Cleanup operations were underway on Saturday after multiple trains derailed in the eastern state of Odisha.
More than 280 people were killed and at least 800 were injured in the accident, which took place late on Friday, officials told news agencies.
The death toll rose steadily throughout the night.
“By 10 p.m. (on Friday) we were able to rescue the survivors. After that it was about picking up dead bodies,” Sudhanshu Sarangi, director of Odisha’s fire department, told The Associated Press.
“This is very, very tragic. I have never seen anything like this in my career,” he said.
Sarangi said rescuers worked for hours cutting through the wrecked rail cars to find people who may still be alive and trapped.
Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Indian Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw visited the scene on Saturday morning to take stock of the situation.
will visit the site of the tragedy later on Saturday, his office confirmed.
Rescue efforts end, cleanup begins
The accident happened in Balasore, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Odisha’s state capital, Bhubaneswar.
The major crash sparked an extensive search-and-rescue operation, involving hundreds of first responders from the fire department and the police force, who used sniffer dogs. National Disaster Response Force teams were also at the site.
By Saturday afternoon, the Ministry of Railways announced the rescue operation was completed and that “restoration work has commenced” to clean up the debris at the crash site.
Odisha state officials declared a day of mourning on Saturday as a mark of respect to the victims.
Meanwhile, hundreds of young people lined up outside a government hospital in the small city of Soro to donate blood.
What do we know so far?
The crash happened around 7:20 p.m. local time (13:50 GMT) near Bahanaga Bazar station in Balasore.
There are some conflicting accounts on which train came to derail first, but the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency cited officials as saying that three trains were involved in the crash.
PTI reported that the first to derail was the Bengaluru-to-Howrah train, which is known as the Howrah Superfast Express. Some of its carriages fell onto adjacent tracks.
Those derailed coaches collided with the Coromandel Express, which runs from Kolkata to Chennai.
As it derailed, the Coromandel Express then hit a freight train, officials told PTI.
Television images showed rescue teams trying to reach the survivors trapped inside mangled carriages, with scores of bodies laid out under white sheets beside the tracks.
The Ministry of Railways said it has initiated an investigation into the incident.
The ministry also announced compensation for victims and their families of the accident in a post on Twitter. The government will pay 10 lakh rupees (€ 11,300; $12,100) to the families of the deceased, 2 lakh rupees (€ 2,260; $2,400) for those grievously injured and 50,000 rupees (€ 566; $607) for those with minor injuries, according to the post.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that rescue operations were underway at the site and “all possible assistance” is being given to those affected. “May the injured recover soon,” he said.
Survivors describe horror of crash
Locals from Balasore and nearby towns rushed to the site to evacuate people after hearing the train coaches collide with each other, according to reports.
“The local people really went out on a limb to help us. They not only helped in pulling out people, but retrieved our luggage and got us water,” Rupam Banerjee, a survivor of the tragedy, told PTI.
Another survivor, Vandana Kaleda, said people were “falling on each other” inside the train as it shook violently and veered off the tracks.
“As I stepped out of the washroom, suddenly the train tilted. I lost my balance. […] Everything went topsy-turvy. People started falling on each other and I was shocked and could not understand what happened. My mind stopped working,” she said.
Another surviving passenger said he saw others with broken limbs and disfigured faces.
World leaders react to tragedy
Dozens of world leaders offered their condolences on Saturday to the people of India and the families of those deceased.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister said he was “deeply saddened by the loss of hundreds of lives in a train accident in India.”
“I extend my heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families who lost their loved ones in this tragedy,” he said. “Prayers for speedy recovery of the injured.”
Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, more commonly known as Prachanda, offered his condolences to the victims’ families as well as to Modi.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, , also offered his thoughts and prayers.
“My deepest condolences to the family and friends of those killed, and my heartfelt support and admiration to the survivors and those working tirelessly to respond,” he said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also said he was “deeply saddened” by the news of the train accident.
“Germany stands by India in this difficult time,” he said.
India no stranger to rail accidents
Despite government efforts to improve rail safety, accidents occur every year on India’s railways, the largest train network under one management in the world.
In 2018, a commuter train drove through a crowd gathered on the tracks for a festival in the northern city of Amritsar, killing at least 59 people and injuring dozens of others.
In 2017, after several coaches of a passenger train went off the rails in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
Most train accidents in the country are blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment.
More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India every day, traveling on 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) of track.
zc, mk, rm, mm/sri, rs (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)