Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote that he is “committed to providing all possible assistance to those affected”
At least 280 people are dead and as many as 1,000 are injured following a three-way train crash in the Indian city of Balasore, CNN reports.
A state railway official told the publication that the Friday collision is suspected to have been caused by a traffic signaling failure, although the exact cause remains unclear.
“Distressed by the train accident in Odisha,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter Friday.
“In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon. Spoke to Railway Minister @AshwiniVaishnaw and took stock of the situation. Rescue ops are underway at the site of the mishap and all possible assistance is being given to those affected.”
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The following day, Modi traveled to the site of the collision, and “took stock of the situation at the site of the tragedy in Odisha,” he added.
“Words can’t capture my deep sorrow,” Modi wrote. “We stand committed to providing all possible assistance to those affected. I laud all those working round the clock, on the ground and helping out in relief work.”
The collision marked India’s worst rail crash in more than two decades, per Reuters, which attributed the latest death toll of 288 to KS Anand, chief public relations officer of the South Eastern Railway. The outlet reports that the collision occurred around 7 pm local time (1330 GMT), as the Howrah Superfast Express was traveling from Bengaluru to Howrah in West Bengal, and the Coromandel Express was traveling from Kolkata to Chennai.
A senior state railway official told CNN that the goods train was stopped on a track as the Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express entered the track and slammed into it. Then, the Howrah Express derailed after slamming into coaches that were pushed onto the opposite track.
A witness told Reuters that bodies are still stuck inside the trains and the death toll is expected to rise.
“The Coromandel Express was supposed to travel on the main line, but a signal was given for the loop line instead, and the train rammed into a goods train already parked over there. Its coaches then fell onto the tracks on either side, also derailing the Howrah Superfast Express,” KS Anand reportedly said.
One witness called the scene “horrific and heart-wrenching” while speaking with Reuters, as surviving passenger Anubha Das described “families crushed away, limbless bodies and a bloodbath on the tracks.”
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Ashwini Vaishnaw, the minister of railways, told reporters that a “high-level inquiry” had been ordered to understand the cause.
“It’s still ongoing,” Odisha’s fire services chief, Sudhanshu Sarangi, told local news channel NDTV of search efforts that are expected to resume Sunday, per CNN. “We need to lift the wreckage and see what’s underneath… A crane has arrived, we will pull the coaches up one by one, but we don’t have much hope of finding survivors. We’ve never seen so many dead bodies before. It’s sad, but we’re trying.”
Survivor Rohit Raj, 19, said they were sleeping when the crash took place. “I was sleeping when all of a sudden, I heard a loud crash,” they told CNN. “There was smoke everywhere, we couldn’t see. Everyone was screaming, everyone was in shock.”
“People were trying to run and escape from the train. The coach in front of me was badly mangled. People were badly trapped. I saw people piled on top of each other. My coach derailed, but thankfully I managed to escape.”
Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has also visited the site of the crash in Odisha and announced that families of those who died will receive 1 million rupees ($12,000), while those seriously injured will get 200,000 and those with minor injuries 50,000.
Several world leaders have since shared their condolences, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “The images and reports of the train crash in Odisha, India break my heart,” he said wrote on Twitter. “I’m sending my deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones, and I’m keeping the injured in my thoughts. At this difficult time, Canadians are standing with the people of India.”
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