At least 96 people were killed and more than 150 injured when 14 coaches of the Indore-Patna Express derailed near the city of Kanpur before dawn on Sunday, officials said.
The horrific disaster took place when the Patna-bound train’s coaches ran off the rails just after 3 a.m. near Pukhraya station, about 60 km from Kanpur city, railway and police officials said.
Uttar Pradesh Inspector General of Police Zaki Ahmed told IANS that the number of dead stood at 96.
The passengers were asleep when the disaster struck, stunning everyone. The first to derail were the S1 and S2 coaches, which suffered the maximum damage, followed by 12 other coaches.
Most of the dead were simply crushed to death, an official of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) told IANS. Some of the injured were in critical condition.
A passenger who survived told journalists that the train stopped a couple of moments after 3 a.m. for unexplained reasons.
“It then suddenly picked up speed,” the man said. “And then I got an eerie feeling that the train was rolling down a valley.
“By the time I realized what had happened, some 20-25 people in my coach had been killed. There was a six-year-old girl who was literally cut into two pieces,” said the man, barely able to relate the horror.
It was the worst train accident in the country after the May 2010 disaster in West Bengal involving Gyaneshwari Express that killed some 170 people.
Survivors told journalists that the first to reach the site were villagers. The government’s rescue and relief teams came only after day broke.
“It is a very unfortunate and tragic situation,” Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh told the media.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi mourned the deaths and announced ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh for the next of kin of those killed and Rs. 50,000 for those seriously injured.
Officials said soldiers and NDRF teams frantically cut through the mangled coaches to pull out bodies and the injured.
Within an hour, thousands of people were swarming the site in a bid to help out.
The railways used heavy machinery to separate the coaches, some of which had rolled over one another.
Some passengers complained that there had been unexplained noises in the S1 coach but the train staff did not pay heed.
Railway officials rushed the injured to nearby hospitals and fear that the death toll may go up.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu ordered an inquiry.
The railways announced Helpline numbers: Jhansi: 0510-1072; Urai: 0516-21072; Kanpur: 0512-1072; Pukhraya: 05113-270239; Kanpur Dehat: 0511-271050.
“Enquiry team will start investigation for cause of accident immediately. All necessary assistance provided to the affected,” Prabhu tweeted.
“Strictest possible action will be taken against those who could be responsible for accident,” he added.
Prabhu also announced ex gratia of Rs 3.5 lakh to the kin of the deceased, Rs 50,000 to each of the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 to each of the others injured.
Later, after noon, a special train left from the accident site for Patna with the passengers who survived the disaster.
In Patna, hundreds whose family members or friends were on the train rushed to the city’s main railway station in a bid to get news about the tragedy.
One man, looking fatigued, complained that he was constantly ringing up his friend who was on the train but no one was answering the telephone.
Vice President Hamid Ansari and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav expressed grief over the loss of lives.
Ansari said: “I am deeply grieved and shocked at the tragic loss of life and injuries.”