Bhubaneshwar/New Delhi, Jun 03, 2023, IANS
The death toll from a devastating train derailment in Balasore district, Odisha, has risen to 238, with approximately 900 people sustaining injuries, according to a statement released by the South Eastern Railway on Saturday.
Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw visited the accident site on Saturday morning, pledging a comprehensive high-level inquiry into the incident. Additionally, an independent investigation by the rail safety commissioner will be conducted to ascertain the causes behind the disaster.
The calamity unfolded on Friday evening when 17 coaches of the Coromandel Express and SMVT-Howrah Super Fast Express derailed, resulting in one of the most severe train accidents witnessed in the country over the past 15 years.
In an official bulletin, the South Eastern Railway provided details of the incident, stating, "The derailment occurred near Bahanaga Bazar Railway station at approximately 6:55 p.m. on June 2, involving Train number 12841 Shalimar-Chennai, Coromandel Express, and Train number 12864 Sir M Visvesvaraya-Howrah Superfast Express."
Rescue and relief efforts were immediately launched, with accident relief trains, equipped with medical personnel and supplies, dispatched from Kharagpur and Bhadrak to the site.
As of now, the authorities have reported a total of 238 casualties. Roughly 650 injured passengers have been admitted to Gopalpur, Khantapara, Balasore, Bhadrak, and Soro hospitals, where they are receiving medical care.
Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who personally visited the accident site, is closely overseeing the ongoing rescue operation. Speaking to the media, Vaishnaw emphasized, "Our immediate priority is to focus on rescue and relief operations. Once the district administration provides clearance, restoration efforts will commence."
Vaishnaw further added, "A comprehensive high-level inquiry will be conducted to determine the factors leading to this incident, and an independent investigation will be carried out by the rail safety commissioner."
According to railway officials, the Coromandel Express was en route to Chennai, while the Sir M Visvesvaraya-Howrah Superfast Express was traveling towards Howrah with approximately 1,000 passengers when the accident occurred on Friday evening.
Preliminary investigations suggest that the tragic incident was triggered by the derailment of the Coromandel Express coaches, resulting in a collision with stationary goods trains on one side. Some coaches of the Coromandel Express also capsized onto the opposite rail track, where the SMVP-Howrah Superfast Express was approaching from the Yashwantpur side towards Howrah.
Heart-wrenching visuals from the accident site reveal the extent of damage, with the coaches of both trains piled on top of each other. Rescue teams, including the NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) and other agencies, utilized gas cutters to extricate survivors from the wreckage.
More than 200 ambulances and 30 buses have been deployed to provide aid, as confirmed by Odisha Chief Secretary Pradeep Jena. Throughout the night, seven teams from the NDRF, five teams from ODRAF (Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force), 24 fire service units, local police, and volunteers tirelessly searched for survivors and recovered bodies from the tangled mass of derailed coaches.
The Railways has announced an inquiry to be conducted by A.M. Chodhary, CRS/SE Circle, to investigate the incident thoroughly. However, the exact number of casualties can only be determined once the entire wreckage has been meticulously examined. The ongoing rescue operation remains in progress.
As a consequence of the accident, several trains on the Chennai-Howrah route, one of the busiest corridors for the national transporter, have been canceled by the Railways.