Balasore: At least 288 people were killed and more than 850 injured in a horrific three-train collision in India, officials said Saturday, the country's deadliest rail accident in more than 20 years.
Images from the crash site showed smashed train compartments torn open with blood-stained holes near Balasore, in the eastern state of Odisha.
Carriages had flipped over entirely in the crash late on Friday and rescue workers searched for survivors trapped in the mangled wreckage, with scores of bodies laid out under white sheets beside the tracks.
Train mishap in pictures
As dawn broke on Saturday, rescue workers were able to see the full extent of the carnage.
Sudhanshu Sarangi, director general of Odisha Fire Services, said that the death toll stood at 288.
"The rescue work is still going on," he told AFP from the accident site, adding there were "a lot of serious injuries".
Odisha state's chief secretary Pradeep Jena confirmed that about 850 injured people had been sent to hospitals following the crash, which took place around 200 kilometres from the state capital Bhubaneswar.
"Our top priority now is rescuing (the passengers) and providing health support to the injured," he said.
Amitabh Sharma, executive director at Indian Railways, said that two passenger trains "had an active involvement in the accident" while "the third train, a goods train, which was parked at the site, also got (involved) in the accident".
Ten to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell onto a nearby track. The debris was hit by another passenger train coming from the opposite direction, causing up to three coaches of the second train to also derail, added Sharma.
One survivor told local TV news reporters that he was sleeping when the accident happened, and woke to find himself trapped under about a dozen fellow passengers, before somehow crawling out of the carriage with only injuries to his neck and arm.
The injured were carried by both ambulances and buses to any hospital that had space.
SK Panda, a spokesperson in Jena's office in Odisha state said "all big government and private hospitals from the accident site to the state capital" were prepared to support the injured.
The spokesperson added that authorities had sent "75 ambulances to the site and had also deployed many buses" to transport injured passengers.
At Bhadrak District Hospital, ambulances brought in casualties, with the bloodied and shocked survivors receiving treatment in crowded wards.
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its sincere condolences to the Government of India and its people and to the families of the victims of this tragedy, as well as its wishes for a speedy recovery for the injured.
Here are details of some of the deadliest rail accidents in India in recent decades:
■ June 1981: At least 800 people are killed when seven rear coaches of an overcrowded passenger train are blown off the track and fall into a river during a cyclone.
■ July 1988: An express train leaves the rails and plunges into a monsoon-swollen lake near Quilon in southern India, killing at least 106 people.
■ August 1995: At least 350 people are killed when two trains collide 200 km (125 miles) from Delhi.
■ August 1999: Two trains collide near Calcutta, leading to the deaths of at least 285 people.
■ October 2005: Several coaches of a passenger train derail in southern Andhra Pradesh state, near Velugonda. At least 77 people are killed.
■ July 2011: Around 70 people are killed and over 300 injured when a mail train derails in Fatehpur.
■ November 2016: Some 146 people are killed and more than 200 injured when an express train derails in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
■ January 2017: At least 41 people are killed after several coaches of a passenger train go off the rails in southern Andhra Pradesh state.
■ October 2018: A commuter train runs through a crowd gathered on the tracks for a festival in northern India's Amritsar city, killing at least 59 people and injuring 57.
All hands required’
SK Panda, a spokesperson in Jena’s office in Odisha state, called it “a heavy accident”.
“We expect that the rescue work will continue till at least tomorrow [Saturday] morning,” Panda said. “On our part, we have prepared all big government and private hospitals from the accident site to the state capital to cater to the injured”.
The spokesperson added that authorities had already rushed “75 ambulances to the site and had also deployed many buses” to transport both the injured passengers and survivors from the site.
'Distressed by the train accident'
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "distressed by the train accident".
"In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon", Modi said on Twitter, adding that he had spoken to railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw to take "stock of the situation".
Vaishnaw said that he was rushing to the accident site, with rescue teams including the National Disaster Response Force and air force working frantically.
"Will take all hands required for the rescue ops," he said on Twitter.
India is no stranger to railway accidents and has seen several such incidents in the past, but railway safety - thanks to massive new investments and upgrades in technology - has improved significantly in recent years.
World leaders mourn loss of lives
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, mourned the loss of lives on Saturday.
Putin sent his condolences to President Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the deadly train collision in Balasore.
"We share the grief of those who lost their loved ones in this tragic accident, and wish a speedy recovery for those injured," an official statement read.
Japan's Prime Minister Kishida sent a condolence message to Prime Minister Modi following the accident, which read: "I am deeply saddened by the news of the loss of many precious lives and the injuries in the train accident in Odisha. On behalf of the Government of Japan and its people, I would like to express our heartfelt condolences to those who lost their lives and their bereaved families. I also pray for the speedy recovery of those who were injured."
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau said that at this difficult hour, Canadians stand with the people of India.
"The images and reports of the train crash in Odisha broke my heart. I'm sending my deepest condolences to those who lost their loved ones, and I'm keeping the injured in my thoughts. At this difficult time, Canadians are standing with the people of India," Trudeau tweeted.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen also extended condolences to the victims of the train accident, saying, "Taiwan praying for everyone affected by the train accident in India. I extend my heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families, and hope that rescue operations can save all those in need."
The Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, Antonio Tajani, said, "The Italian government expresses deep condolences to India for the tragic train accident that occurred in Balasore. A prayer for the victims and the injured, I hope that those still trapped will be rescued."
UN General Assembly President Csaba Korosi too expressed his deepest condolence over the tragic train accident.
"I'm deeply saddened to hear the news of the train crash in Odisha. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and with the emergency services. Heartfelt condolences to the people and the Government of India," Korosi, the President of the 77th session of the General Assembly, tweeted.
Pakistan Prime MInister Shehbaz Sharif also condoled the deaths and said in a tweet, "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. Prayers for speedy recovery of the injured."