Two trains derailed in India’s eastern state of Odisha on Friday, Indian news reports said, killing as many as 50 people and injuring hundreds more in an accident that deeply shook the country.
Amitabh Sharma, a spokesman for the railway ministry, was quoted by The Times of India as saying that 10 to 12 carriages of a train derailed and some of the debris then entered a nearby track where it was struck by another train.
Indian news reports described harrowing scenes as teams of rescuers with dogs and cutting equipment worked frantically to free survivors and injured trapped in the train wreck.
Video footage of the crash scene showed stunned onlookers, and Indian news reports said more than 50 ambulances had arrived in the area, along with teams of doctors to tend to the injured. The number of dead was not confirmed, but reports feared it to be at least 50 people.
Odisha’s chief secretary, Pradeep Jena, was quoted by The Times of India as saying at least 550 people were injured.
Ashok Samal, a shopkeeper, told The Hindustan Times that he ended his day at the track in his Bahanaga village on Friday when he heard a deafening noise, ran to the track on the main line between Kolkata and Chennai and found a pile of mutilated train carriages. “There were loud screams and blood everywhere,” he told the newspaper, adding that he saw people trapped under buses and people screaming for help.
Ashwini Vaishnaw, the Minister of Railways, said on Twitter that the National Disaster Response Force, a specialist disaster response group, had been mobilized along with air force rescuers. Dozens of trains were cancelled.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India expressed his condolences on Twitter. ‘Uneasy about the train accident in Odisha,’ he said wrote. “In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved. May the injured recover quickly.”
Ashwini Vaishnaw, the railway minister, told the Indian news agency ANI that he had ordered an investigation to determine the cause of the crash.
Indian news reports said that as news of the crash spread along with reports of mounting casualties, desperate relatives headed to Howrah Station in West Bengal where one of the trains was heading, eager to determine the status of their loved ones.
In Howrah, a man named Sapan Chowdhury told The Indian Express that he was immensely relieved to learn that his 23-year-old daughter was still alive, although she had been injured by shards of glass.
According to Indian Railways, India’s railways transport more than 13 million people a day, but the system has been plagued by years of neglect. In 2014, there were more than 27,000 train-related deaths, according to the country’s National Crime Records Bureau. In 2012, a committee appointed to assess the safety of the rail network cited “a grim picture of underperformance, largely due to poor infrastructure and resources”.
It recommended a host of urgent measures including improving track, repairing bridges, eliminating level crossings and replacing old carriages with safer carriages that better protect passengers in the event of an accident.
Passenger safety, or lack thereof, has come under scrutiny in India in recent years. In 2016, more than 140 passengers were killed in the derailment of passenger coaches near the city of Kanpur. In the weeks following that accident, two more people were killed in another derailment of passenger coaches on the same stretch of track.