Lucknow: The toll in one of India`s worst train accidents rose to 69 by the time search operations ended Monday in Uttar Pradesh, where 14 coaches of the speeding Howrah-Kalka Mail jumped off the rails a day earlier. Out of the dead, 23 were yet to be identified.
The cause of the accident, which also left 249 injured, is still unknown. The dead include two Swedish nationals.
"Bodies of 46 victims have been identified and arrangements are being currently made to put them in individual coffins so that these could be easily transported to their respective homes," Special Director General of Police Brij Lal said here.
"As for the remaining 23, we are making every possible effort to identify them, but the task seems difficult since most of these were passengers of the general compartment about whom even the railways do not have any records," he said.
He expressed hope that their families would themselves come looking for them after knowing of the accident near the Malwan station in Fatehpur district, about 140 km from here, at 12.20 p.m. Sunday.
Six special teams of doctors were put on the job to carry out the post-mortem examination on each of the bodies. "Post-mortem cannot be avoided and it is mandatory under law," said Brij Lal.
Of the 249 injured, 63 were discharged after basic treatment, while the remaining were showing signs of recovery in different hospitals at Fatehpur, Kanpur, Allahabad and Lucknow, he said.
According to Fatehpur Chief Medical Officer K.N. Joshi, the injuries sustained by the passengers ranged from deep gashes to amputations and fractures.
It took a good 24 hours for a joint operation by army and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to extricate bodies from piles of mangled metal and plastic.
The dead included two Swedish nationals, Victor and Wick, who were travelling in a second class reserved coach that was completely smashed in the accident. Their companion Oscar, however, survived and was currently hospitalised with multiple injuries in Kanpur.
After a night-long search, the rescue teams also pressed trained sniffer dogs into service to lead the way to any dead body that could still be trapped under the heaps of mangled metal.
"This eventually helped to track down at least a dozen more bodies, which could not have been detected otherwise," Fatehpur`s Additional District Magistrate Anil Kumar Pathak told IANS over telephone from the accident site.
The rescue operation was finally completed around 1 p.m. Monday after which railway authorities got down to working towards restoration of the busy track, on which traffic was thrown completely out of gear. At least a dozen trains had to be cancelled while about two dozen were diverted.
Some survivors were seen wailing and moaning at the site of the accident all night and even on Monday morning, in search of their kin who were untraceable.
"I went to the hospital and have been running around the whole night looking for my brother," a 14-year-old sobbing Shahana told reporters at the site of the disaster, which had left her mother dead and father with an amputated leg.
Minutes later, as she discovered that one of the bodies being pulled out by the army personnel was that of her brother, she went into uncontrollable hysteria crying: "What will I do now, where will I go?"
Even as shocked but less injured passengers managed to get out of the coaches, local villagers were the first to rush to the rescue of the victims. Many passengers complained that relief came quite late and they had to fend for themselves for at least two hours.
While some 200 policemen were rushed from Fatehpur and went about carrying the injured to waiting vehicles for hospitalisation in Fatehpur and Kanpur, the rescue work intensified after an 180-strong contingent of the Indian Army reached the site. Rescuers worked all night to pull out the dead as also rush the seriously injured for specialised treatment.
Military helicopters ferried the more seriously injured to hospitals to Lucknow and Allahabad.
The reason for the accident was not clear. But a senior railway official confirmed that the train was running at 108 km an hour when the driver applied emergency brakes just short of the Malwan station, triggering the derailment.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is currently holding the railway portfolio, expressed shock and grief over the disaster. The central as well as the Uttar Pradesh governments quickly announced compensation for the dead and the injured.
The accident is described as this year`s worst rail tragedy in India`s rail network which is regarded as one of the largest in the world, ferrying about 14 million passengers a day.