Pukhraya/Kanpur: At least 121 passengers were killed and more than 200 injured, nearly half of them grievously, in the worst train accident in recent years when 14 coaches of Indore-Patna Express derailed here in Kanpur rural area in the wee hours today due to suspected rail fracture.
The disaster took place just a little after 0300 hrs when the passengers were jolted out of their sleep as the Patna-bound train 19321 jumped the tracks, badly damaging four ordinary sleeper coaches in which hundreds were trapped.
Of the four coaches, the S1 and S2 had telescoped into each other and most of the casualties were feared to have been in these two compartments.
S3 and S4 coaches also suffered severe damage while an AC III tier coach was also affected but casualties in it were not heavy.
As railway personnel assisted by those of army, NDRF and state police carried out the search and rescue operation, the number of casualties kept on increasing by the hour.
By 8 PM, 121 bodies were recovered from the mangled coaches and most of them taken to Mati mortuary in Kanpur rural, according to IG (Kanpur range) Zaki Ahmad, who said a few more passengers were feared trapped.
The rescue operation will continue in the night under floodlights, officials said.
"We have plans to work through the night. We have put up lights," Army's Kanpur Station Commander Brig B M Sharma said.
Among the dead, 62 have been identified. At least 20 are from Uttar Pradesh, 15 from Madhya Pradesh and six from Bihar and one each from Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Post mortem of 27 identified bodies has been done and they were handed over to the families. Ambulance facilities were provided to the families of the victims to transport the bodies, officials said.
An army man Prabhu Narayan Singh, Anil Kishore of BSF from Rohtas, Bihar, and UP police constable Lakhan Singh from Jhansi were among the dead.
76 passengers were seriously injured in the derailment, Ahmad said. 150 other passengers received minor injuries in the mishap.
"Over 150 injured people have been rushed to nearby hospitals in the area. More than 30 ambulances were pressed into service," he said.
Officials said that prima facie the cause of the accident could be due to track fracture.
Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha told reporters at the spot that it seems the cause of the accident is rail fracture.
Member (Engineering) of the Railway Board will find out the cause of the mishap and action will be taken against those responsible, he said.
With several passengers feared trapped, rescue personnel employed cold cutters to break open the compartments as gas cutters produced excessive heat and suffocation hampering their efforts.
A number of traumatised passengers were rescued. Many sat in daze for several hours near the wreckage as teams of army doctors, railway officials and personnel of NDRF, state PAC and other policemen as well as locals descended here.
"We saw death whisk past us," was the common refrain among the survivors. Several passengers frantically looked for their loved ones.
President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and a host of other leaders condoled the loss of lives in the train tragedy.
While Yadav announced compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the kin of each of the dead in the accident, Modi sanctioned Rs 2 lakh. On his part, the Railway Minister enhanced the ex-gratia grant from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3.5 lakh to the families of the dead.
The UP government will give Rs 50,000 to those seriously injured and Rs 25,000 for those with simple injuries.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who visited the injured in hospitals in Kanpur Urban, announced Rs 2 lakh for kin of each of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for the injured.
Prabhu visited the injured in hospital late in the evening.
"A high-level inquiry is on. We have mobilised our resources from all over the country. All our GMs have also reached the spot.
"We are trying our best to provide all kind of help to the injured. The immediate task ahead of us is to provide relief to people and help them in every way possible. I request you all to help and assist in the relief operation," he said.
Railways have made available the following helpline numbers -- Indore-07411072, Ujjain- 07342560906, Ratlam- 074121072, Orai-051621072, Jhansi- 05101072, Pokhraya- 05113270239.
North Central Railway General Manager Arun Srivastava said traffic on Kanpur-Jhansi section will be opened in 36 hours.
Four trains were cancelled and fourteen diverted after the derailment disrupted traffic on the route.
The interiors of the less-affected coaches also bore hallmarks of the tragedy, with bed sheets, blankets, pillows, half-eaten food, suitcases and bags lying scattered.
Outside, a 17-year-old girl was among those who desperately searched for their relatives. She was trying to trace her brother as both of them were returning to Patna after a swimming competition in Bhopal, accompanied by their mother.
In the midst of the devastation, there were stories of individual heroics too, with one rescue worker managing to pull out five persons alive, one of them oblivious that her limb had got severed.
Over 600 kms away, grim scenes played out at Patna railway station, with relatives of the passengers making desperate attempts to contact their near and dear ones and pleading officials for information.
"I have been calling my father, who was returning from Ujjain, since morning. Calls are going through, but he is not picking up," said Ranjan.
In another corner of the station, the brother of one of the passengers, Ranjan Kumar Singh, begged officials to share some information.
"We have not seen a tragedy of this scale ever in our lives. We are still trying to trace five members of our family," Deepika Tripathi, a passenger, told reporters.
NDRF Director General R K Pachnanda told PTI that a total of five teams of the special rescue force, comprising 45 personnel each, were pressed into action at the accident site.
"The rescue teams deployed cutters and hydraulic equipment to ensure that all the trapped passengers are evacuated safely from the rail bogies," the DG, who reached the accident site, said.
"As the victims were trapped inside the bogies, due care and diligence was being taken into consideration," he said.
NDRF rescued at least 53 passengers including 16 badly trapped from the bogies. Among them were two children.
The Chief Minister instructed the DGP to personally monitor the relief operations and deploy traffic police along the route of the mishap site to ensure green corridor for ambulances to reach hospitals quickly.
DG Health & ADG (Law and Order) also reached the accident spot to monitor the relief operations. Buses were pressed into service to help passengers complete their journey.—PTI