Hours of horror af­ter train crash

Death toll reaches 61 in col­li­sion that de­stroyed cars in east­ern In­dia

Austin American-Statesman - - TUESDAY BRIEFING - By Bikas Das

SAINTHIA, In­dia — The 22-yearold was asleep on the overnight train, headed to his dis­tant job at a call cen­ter, when an enor­mous jolt awak­ened him and the train car flipped. He lay with his leg bro­ken for five hours, crushed un­der the dead bod­ies of other pas­sen­gers as he waited for help.

The pow­er­ful crash be­tween two ex­press trains at a sta­tion in east­ern In­dia early Mon­day morn­ing killed 61 peo­ple and in­jured scores more. The force of the crash was so in­tense the roof of one car was thrust onto an over­pass above the tracks.

Ac­ci­dents are rel­a­tively com­mon on In­dia’s sprawl­ing rail net­work, which is one of the world’s largest but lacks mod­ern sig­nal­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems. Most crashes are blamed on poor main­te­nance and hu­man er­ror.

It was the sec­ond ma­jor train crash in West Ben­gal state in two months. On May 28, a pas­sen­ger train de­railed and was hit by a cargo train, killing 145 peo­ple. Au­thor­i­ties blamed sab­o­tage by Maoist rebels for that crash.

Rail­way Min­is­ter Ma­mata Banerjee rushed to the site of Mon­day’s crash and raised the pos­si­bil­ity it was an­other case of sab­o­tage. But there was no im­me­di­ate in­di­ca­tion that rebels were to blame.

A hand­ful of ac­ci­dents in north In­dia in Jan­uary killed at least a dozen peo­ple and were blamed on heavy win­ter fog that im­paired vis­i­bil­ity.

How­ever, ac­ci­dents as deadly as Mon­day’s crash are rare.

It hap­pened about 2 a.m. when the fast-mov­ing Ut­tar­banga Ex­press slammed into the Vanan­chal Ex­press as it was leav­ing the plat­form at Sainthia sta­tion, about 125 miles north of Cal­cutta.

Two pas­sen­ger cars and a lug­gage car of the Vanan­chal Ex­press were de­stroyed, leav­ing a tan­gle of twisted metal.

Res­i­dents scram­bled onto the crashed cars, search­ing for survi- vors. Hours later, they said, res­cue work­ers ar­rived, bring­ing heavy equip­ment to cut through de­bris.

“I had fallen asleep and woke up when I felt an enor­mous jolt and then sud­denly I felt my coach turn­ing over,” said the 22-year-old, Mithun Ma­hato.

“Three or four pas­sen­gers fell on top of me and my right leg broke. I lay there crushed un­der dead bod­ies for a long time. At least three peo­ple sit­ting next to me in the coach died.

“I was trapped there in hor­ri­ble pain un­til res­cue work­ers with gas cut­ters cut into the coach and pulled me out.” He was pulled out about 7 a.m., nearly five hours af­ter the crash.

Res­cuers re­cov­ered 61 bod­ies from the crash site and at least 125 other peo­ple were in­jured, said Su­ra­jit Kar Purkayastha, a top po­lice of­fi­cial. The two driv­ers of the Ut­tar­banga Ex­press were among the dead.

Res­cue op­er­a­tions were fin­ished by late Mon­day evening, said Samir Goswami, a rail­way spokesman. Cranes and la­bor­ers were work­ing to re­move the man­gled coaches so the tracks could be cleared.

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