LUCKNOW, India: An Indian express train derailed early Sunday, killing over 100 people in one of the country’s worst rail disasters in years, police said, as emergency workers searched the mangled wreckage for survivors.
Shocked passengers recounted being woken by a violent thud, and told of their desperate search for loved-ones on the train, which was carrying at least one wedding party with the marriage season in India in full swing.
“We woke up to a great thud this morning. It was pitch dark and the noise was deafening,” one passenger told reporters as he waited with his family at the scene.
“I am lucky to be alive and safe. It was a near-death experience for us.”
Many were sleeping when 14 carriages leapt from the tracks in a remote area outside the northern city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh state.
It is the worst disaster since 2010 when a passenger train crashed into a freight train in the eastern state of West Bengal, killing 146 and injuring over 200.
“The death toll has topped 100 now,” said Daljit Singh Chawdhary, the additional police director-general.
Another 150 were injured and rushed to nearby hospitals, which had been placed on high alert after the early morning disaster.
Television images showed rescue workers using gas-powered metal cutters and other equipment to slice through severely mangled coaches strewn with suitcases and other luggage.
Anxious relatives thronged the station on Indore in central India where the train originated, many clutching pictures of their loved-ones.
Shaken to core
Nitika Trivedi, a student who boarded the train with her family from the eastern city of Patna, said images of the bodies of her fellow passengers would long haunt her.
“I had never seen anything like this in my life before. I am shaken to the core,” she said.
Railway officials said special trains had been pressed into service for stranded travelers.
“We are also trying to clear the tracks and complete the restoration work as quickly as possible,” Vijay Kumar, a spokesman for north-central railways, told AFP.
Local media reports said the train was packed with families, some of them traveling home for weddings.
Bride-to-be Ruby Gupta, who survived the accident with a fractured arm, was desperately searching for her father.
“I have been looking everywhere for him,” she said according to the Press Trust of India.
National Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu said in a tweet the government would investigate what caused the derailment and announced compensation for the victims.
India’s railway network, one of the world’s largest, is still the main form of long-distance travel in the vast country, but it is poorly funded and deadly accidents occur relatively frequently.
In 2014 an express train ploughed into a stationary freight train, also in Uttar Pradesh, killing 26 people.
And last year 27 people died after two trains derailed in Madhya Pradesh state during heavy rain.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has pledged to invest $137 billion over five years to modernize the crumbling railways, making them safer, faster and more efficient.
On Sunday Modi tweeted that he was “anguished beyond words” by the loss of life in the latest accident.
In 2012 a government report said almost 15,000 people were killed every year on India’s railways, describing the deaths as an annual “massacre.”