At least 261 passengers were feared dead and around 650 injured in a major rail accident involving two express trains in Balasore district of Odisha on June 2 evening. The rescue operations at the site have been completed, a South Eastern Railway official said on June 3.
“The number of casualties in Friday’s railway accident has increased to 261. Another 650 injured passengers are being treated at various hospitals in Odisha,” SER spokesperson Aditya Chowdhury said.
An enquiry into the accident will be held by the commissioner of railway safety (CRS), South Eastern circle, the official said.
The accident took place at around 7 p.m. when two coaches of 12864 (SMVB-HWH) Yashwantpur-Howrah Express derailed near Bahanaga Railway station in Balasore district. The derailed coaches tossed over to the adjoining track and hit the speeding 12841 Coromandal Express coming from the opposite direction. It led to derailment of about 17 bogies.
Railway officials were, however, hesitant to state the exact cause of the accident and were waiting for outcome of initial findings. The death toll is likely to go up sharply as disaster response teams and locals were retrieving bodies from under derailed coaches.
The Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express, a long-distance train connecting West Bengal with Tamil Nadu had left Shalimar station earlier in the day. Its passengers comprise mostly residents of West Bengal who visit Tamil Nadu either for work or availing better healthcare facilities.
The rail accident is being described as one of the worst in recent times. In 2013, the Coramandel Express had met with an accident in Jajpur district of Odisha which is about 50 km away from the present accident site.
Though the Odisha government had deployed dozens of teams under supervision of more than 10 senior Secretaries and a Minister, chaos prevailed at the accident site as well as at healthcare centres. The State government had mobilised doctors from all neighbouring districts as well as premier medical colleges.
The doctors seemed overwhelmed managing the crisis as patients poured in with every minute. The constant blaring of the ambulances kept the locals awake at night while hundreds of locals jumped into the rescue operation. People from nearby villages ran to the accident sites as first responders. People were seen queuing up to donate blood. Over 115 ambulances were pressed into services for evacuation of seriously injured patients.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a tweet, expressed grief over the accident along with Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The Odisha CM, speaking to reporters, said he will be visiting the site on Saturday morning.
“Deeply anguished to know about the loss of lives in an unfortunate rail accident in Balasore. My heart goes out to the bereaved families. I pray for the success of rescue operations and quick recovery of the injured,” President Droupadi Murmu tweeted.
The State government had called up rescue teams from adjoining districts while Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw solicited the help of the Air Force in the rescue operations. The Railway Minister has announced ex-gratia of ₹10 lakh to the next of the kin of the deceased and ₹2 lakh for the seriously injured.
Expressing deep concern, Mr. Patnaik said that saving lives of injured passengers was top priority of the government.
The hospital authorities of Balasore, Bhadrak, Mayurbhanj, Jajpur, Kendrapara and Cuttack have been directed that all dead bodies should be kept respectfully, and covered with sheets and that bodies be kept safely indoors and safe from access to outsiders or animals.
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin on Friday night deputed a team from the State led by Transport Minister S.S. Sivasankar to Odisha to aid Tamils affected in the train accident.
The Tamil Nadu government also announced helpline numbers of the State Emergency Operation Centre in Chennai - 1070 (toll-free), 94458 69843, 94458 69848 (WhatsApp) and 044 2859 3990 (landline).
Mr. Stalin spoke to Mr. Patnaik and expressed shock and condolences. He further assured all necessary assistance to those affected in the accident. He also assured to send a medical team to Odisha, if necessary, an official release said.
Three IAS officers K. Phanindra Reddy (Transport Secretary), Kumar Jayant (Disaster Management Secretary) and Archana Pattnaik (Chairperson of Teachers Recruitment Board) would accompany the Minister to Odisha.
Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi said: “Extremely distressed by the accident of Chennai-bound Coromandel Express in Odisha. My heart goes to the families who lost their dear ones. May the injured recover fast. All out rescue and relief operations are going on”.
The West Bengal government dispatched a four-member team comprising a Minister and an MP to the accident site.
The team comprising of State Minister Manas Ranjan Bhunia, Rajya Sabha MP Dola Sen and a retired officer of Indian Railways as well as an Additional District Magistrate will be stationed at Balasore.
West Bengal Chief Secretary H. K. Dwivedi said the team will coordinate with Railway officials as well as Government of Odisha in providing rescue and relief to the affected passengers.
Mr. Dwivedi said that an emergency control room has been activated with numbers 033- 22143526/22535185 and people can call up these numbers for any necessary assistance.
Describing the accident as “ severe in nature” the Chief Secretary said that Balasore District Magistrate has sought for ambulances which have been sent by the West Bengal government. He added that hospitals and medical colleges in districts adjoining Odisha has been activated so that the injured can be treated there.
“Shocked to know that the Shalimar-Coromandel express, carrying passengers from West Bengal, collided with a goods train near Balasore today evening and some of our outbound people have been seriously affected/injured. We are coordinating with Odisha government and South Eastern Railways for our people’s sake,” Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on social media. Ms. Banerjee said that she was personally monitoring the situation with Chief Secretary and other senior officers.
(With inputs from The Hindu Bureaus in Chennai and Kolkata and PTI)