UPDATE: At least 233 dead, more than 900 injured in Odisha's 3-way train accident

CM Naveen Patnaik declared Saturday, June 3, a day of state mourning in Odisha; Tamil Nadu follows suit. Families of deceased promised Rs 10 lakh

The Odisha triple train crash (photo courtesy @Anand_Journ/Twitter)
The Odisha triple train crash (photo courtesy @Anand_Journ/Twitter)

NH Digital

A total of 17 coaches from the SMVT–Howrah superfast express, the Shalimar–Chennai Central Coromandel Express and a goods train were involved in a horrific three-way collision on the evening of Friday, 2 June.

The accident happened in Bara Balasore district, about 200 km north of Odisha's state capital Bhubaneswar and 250 km south of Kolkata, in West Bengal. It is at this point likely the third worst train tragedy in the history of the nation. Update: Rescue operations are yet to be concluded, as of this morning at 9:00 am.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, visiting the site personally on Saturday morning, has declared 3 June a day of state mourning for those deceased. Tamil Nadu has followed suit with a similar announcement.

On Friday night, the Odisha CM was working out of the state's special relief commissioner's office to coordinate and monitor rescue and relief efforts, while revenue minister Pramila Mallik was deputed to lead a team of top officials at the site.

The Railways have announced an ex gratia sum of Rs 10 lakh for the next of kin of the deceased, as well as Rs 2 lakh for those grievously injured, and Rs 50,000 for those who have had relatively minor injuries.

The Central government has announced an additional Rs 2 lakh for the deceased and Rs 50,000 for the injured.

The Odisha government helpline 06782-262286 was activated immediately, as well as 033-22143526/ 22535185 at the West Bengal emergency control room. The railway helplines are 033-26382217 (Howrah), 8972073925 (Kharagpur), 8249591559 (Balasore) and 044-25330952 (Chennai).

News of the tragedy unfolded with initial reports of a death toll of 50 late Friday night. Some coaches had ridden up on others, while some had turned turtle. Others were crushed into unrecognizable shapes. People had been flung out, and eye-witnesses spoke of severed limbs...

Rescue operations were being monitored and coordinated by Odisha Fire Service director general Sudhanshu Sarangi, who reached the site of the accident that evening.

Speaking to the media late in the night, Sarangi had already warned the death toll (by then being calculated at 120 or so) was likely to climb. At that point, the rescue operation of passengers within the coaches was almost complete. But the more serious worry was over those trapped underneath or flung far away...

"Those trapped within the coaches have been rescued and admitted to hospitals. We are now trying to remove the coaches to see whether any passenger is trapped under them," Sarangi said. "Cranes have been engaged to pull up the coaches. We have to see if anybody is lying under the overturned coaches."

Efforts continued late in the night. Several volunteer organisations had joined the rescue operations alongside the Fire Service, the ODRAF (Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force), the NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) and the Air Force too. Rescue teams had arrived from nearby Kolkata and Bhubaneswar as well. Around 1,200 personnel had joined the efforts.

All nearby hospitals, including AIIMS in Bhubaneswar, were on high alert to receive the injured. "Additional doctors have been mobilised and hospitals in the nearby areas have been kept on alert," Odisha chief secretary Pradeep Kumar Jena had said in the evening. "We are trying our best to provide best treatment to the injured persons."

"We pray to God that the people who are still trapped under the coaches remain alive," he had added.

Rescue operations around 10pm in Balasore on the night of Friday, 2 June (photo: Biswanath Swain/IANS)
Rescue operations around 10pm in Balasore on the night of Friday, 2 June (photo: Biswanath Swain/IANS)
Biswanath Swain/IANS

Jena had said 30 buses had been pressed into service alongside the 200-odd ambulances to transport the rescued, and help complete the efforts by morning. 

Per a Hindustan Times report, 600–700 people had been trapped within the coaches alone.

The superintendents of police and district collectors from Balasore, Bhadrak and Mayurbhanj, along with several senior officials, were on the spot to expedite the rescue operations.

Jena added that various district collectors had been asked to provide necessary help to passengers stranded in different stations along the route due to the diversion or cancellation of other trains that ply on this stretch.

Both the prime minister and the president had tweeted their grief and prayers over the incident on the evening of 2 June.

Alongside the trained personnel, the local people of the area had also pitched in to help — not only pulling people from the crushed coaches but trying to bring them their luggage and get them water.

More than 2,000 people had come to help and donated blood at Bhubaneswar.

Several officials and leaders from other states on the two passenger trains' routes had also reached Odisha on hearing of the accident, sent aid or begun extending help to the state government. From neighbouring West Bengal, MP Dola Sen and state minister Manas Ranjan Bhunia were among those who arrived on Friday night. Bengal's CM Mamata Banerjee sent ambulances and emergency response teams and along with chief secretary H.K. Dwivedi has been in constant communication with the Patnaik government.

Those expected in Odisha on Saturday include Tamil Nadu transport minister S.S. Sivasankar and TN sport development minister Udayanidhi Stalin.

Local women among those who pitched in to rescue passengers at the railway accident site in Bahanaga Bazar (photo: IANS)
Local women among those who pitched in to rescue passengers at the railway accident site in Bahanaga Bazar (photo: IANS)

The South Central Railway (SCR) has shared the following addition helpline numbers for those affected by the accident near Bahanaga Bazar station:

South Central Railway headquarters, Rail Nilayam, Secunderabad: 040 - 27788516

Various stations

Vijayawada: Railway — 67055, BSNL — 0866 2576924

Rajahmundry: Railway — 65395, 0883-2420541

Renigunta: 9949198414

Tirupati: 7815915571

Nellore: 0861-2342028

How it happened

The accident happened around 7:20 pm near Bahanaga Bazar station in Balasore district.

PTI cited officials saying that the first to derail was the Bengaluru–Howrah superfast express, causing some its carriages to fall on to an adjacent track.

Those derailed coaches collided with the Coromandel Express, which runs from Kolkata to Chennai.

As it derailed, the Coromandel Express in turn hit a freight train, the officials told PTI.

The only worse railway accidents in India's history have been those of 6 June 1981, when a train fell into the Bagmati river while crossing a bridge in Bihar, killing over 750 people, and the 20 August 1995 collision of the Purushottam Express with a stationary Kalindi Express near Firozabad, with a death toll of 305.

It can only be hoped that this one does not rise to second place.

With inputs from DW, IANS, PTI. Figures in this article have been updated.

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