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India’s train accident toll could rise, fear volunteers

Rescue and relief operations were underway the entire night with local priests, nuns and Church volunteers helping the wounded
Rescue workers gather around damaged carriages at the accident site of a three-train collision near Balasore, about 200 kilometers from the state capital Bhubaneswar in the eastern state of Odisha, on June 3. At least 288 people were killed and more than 900 injured in a horrific three-train collision

Rescue workers gather around damaged carriages at the accident site of a three-train collision near Balasore, about 200 kilometers from the state capital Bhubaneswar in the eastern state of Odisha, on June 3. At least 288 people were killed and more than 900 injured in a horrific three-train collision (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 03, 2023 09:49 AM GMT
Updated: June 03, 2023 10:12 AM GMT

The death toll from one of India's worst train accidents, which currently stands at 288, is likely to rise, says a Catholic priest, who is coordinating the Church’s voluntary work at the accident site in eastern India.

“Many trapped in the mangled compartments of the crashed trains are yet to be brought out,” said Father Lijo George, social work director of the Balasore diocese in Odisha state.

“The death toll is likely to increase as many are still trapped in the mangled coaches,” the priest told UCA News on June 3, a night after the accident.

Officials said at least 288 people were killed and 900 sustained injuries on June 2 evening when three trains including a freight collided near Bahanaga railway station in Odisha’s Balasore district.

“The rescue and relief operations are still going,” the priest said.

The accident happened when some 12 coaches of the Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express train derailed and flung into the railway track opposite. The Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, which was passing through collided with the derailed coaches.

Following a signal failure, an approaching freight collided with derailed compartments leading to the death of several people, government officials said.

“At least 280 bodies have been kept in a school and another building close to Balasore district hospital where hundreds injured are undergoing treatment,” George told UCA News.

“Our priests and nuns along with Church volunteers are helping the wounded passengers in the hospital to contact their family members and relatives,” the priest said.

The Church volunteers are also arranging food, cloth, masks, gloves and other assistance to the rescue teams and medical teams working in the hospital with limited space, he said.

“Doctors and other para-medical teams from nearby areas have already reached the hospital and are providing treatment to the injured passengers and surgeries are also going on for those in need,” the priest said.

‘The people are kept in hospital corridors and other places in the hospital campus following shortage of beds, but everyone is taken care of,” he added

The district administration has blocked the main routes leading to the hospital from the accident site for the general public to avoid obstacles to the ambulances and rescue teams involved in bringing the injured to the hospital.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a message said he was “distressed by the train accident in Odisha. In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon”.

Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has ordered a high-level probe into the train accident.

"The accident was unfortunate, and the rescue operation began shortly after the incident was reported to his ministry," he said.

The railway ministry has announced an exgratia of 1 million rupees (US$12,200) to the kin of the deceased, 200,000 rupees (US$2400) to those severely injured, and 50,000 rupees (US$600) to those who sustained minor injuries.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) in a statement offered “prayers and sympathies on the sad demise of so many people” and wished for quick recovery of the injured.

It also calls upon the government “to find out the cause of such a huge mishap and to take steps to see that in future such massive tragedies are avoided.”

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