Rescuers end search for India train survivors as toll hits 146

November 21, 2016 7:44 pm
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A relative attempts to identify luggage of a family member who was killed when a train derailed near Kanpur in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on November 20, 2016 © AFP / Sanjay Kanojia

, Pukhrāyān, India, Nov 21 – Rescuers on Monday ended their search for survivors amongst the twisted remains of a derailed train as the death toll from one of India’s worst rail disasters rose to 146.

Parts of the train were mangled beyond recognition when the Indore-Patna Express derailed, sending carriages crashing into each other in the early hours of Sunday in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Rescuers worked through the night, picking through the wreckage with sniffer dogs in hopes of finding more survivors.

But they called off the search on Monday afternoon as the last of the carriages was removed from the tracks.

“We recovered eight bodies today and the rescue operations were called off late afternoon. There is no hope for more survivors,” said Anil Shekhawat, spokesman for the National Disaster Response Force.

Another 179 people are being treated in hospital, 60 of whom are in a serious condition, a spokesman for Indian railways told AFP.

India train crash © AFP / Iris Royer De Vericourt

“The rail line has been cleared and some restoration work is on. The line will be fit for traffic in few hours from now,” added spokesman Vijay Kumar.

At least 2,000 people are believed to have been on the train at the time — many travelling without reserved seats or any ticket at all.

– Missing children –

Many of the injured were young children who had become separated from relatives.

Doctors were using WhatsApp to try to reunite children with relatives — sharing photos of their unidentified patients with other hospitals in the area via the messaging app.

Rescue workers search for survivors in the wreckage of a pasenger train that derailed near Pukhrayan in Kanpur district, northern India on November 20, 2016 © AFP / Sanjay Kanojia

“This way, if anyone from his family or acquaintances was at the other hospital looking for him, we were able to unite them swiftly,” A K Srivastava, a senior doctors at one of the local hospitals, told AFP, scrolling through pictures of the injured on his phone.

Eight-year-old Sejal Yadav was found by her brother Rahul, 18, thanks to the app.

Yadav, who remains in intensive care, was travelling with her grandfather and two uncles. All three died.

“In what little she has said, she has complained about her grandfather and uncles not responding to her calls for help after some loud bang noise on the train,” Rahul said.

The disaster occurred at the peak of India’s marriage season, and at least one wedding party was on board the train.

Local media said wedding clothes, jewellery and invitation cards could be seen spilling from abandoned bags.

Emergency workers toiled through the night to find survivors trapped inside the wreckage after a deadly rail accident in India © AFP / Sanjay Kanojia

Eleven-year-old Abhay Srivastava was travelling to a wedding with his parents and two sisters. He is the only member of his family who survived.

Whimpering in pain with multiple broken bones and stitches all over his body, Srivastava repeatedly called out for his mother.

“‘Tell her I am calling’. This is all he has been saying since yesterday,” his uncle Rajesh Kumar Srivastava told AFP.

“How can I tell the child that everything that was his is lost,” he added.

A fracture in the track is thought to have caused the train to derail at around 3 am (2130 GMT Saturday), and Railways minister Suresh Prabhu has promised a thorough investigation.

“Forensic enquiry has been ordered to look into all possible angles. Guilty will be given strictest possible punishment,” he said, addressing a rowdy crowd of lawmakers in the lower house of parliament on Monday.

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.

A 2012 government report said almost 15,000 people were killed every year on India’s railways and described the loss of life as an annual “massacre”.

The government has signed numerous deals with private companies to upgrade the ageing rail network.

Last year Japan agreed to provide $12 billion in soft loans to build India’s first bullet train, though plans remain in their infancy.

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