Jhargram: Seventy eight passengers of a Maharashtra-bound express train were killed early Friday and over 150 injured in a Maoist attack which led to derailment of 13 coaches that were hit by a goods train coming from the opposite direction.
The bodies of the passengers were removed from the mangled remains of the ill-fated coaches of the Howrah-Kurla Lokmanya Tilak Gyaneshwari Super Deluxe Express and the injured taken out with the help of gas cutters, a South Eastern Railway spokesman said.
The incident occurred at 1:30 am when the train was running between Khemasoli and Sardiya stations, about 135 km from here, South Eastern Railway officials said.
In Kolkata, Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) Surojit Karpurokayastha said that according to preliminary investigation, fish plates were found removed at the derailment site.
Earlier, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee said the derailment followed a blast apparently triggered by Maoists who are observing a `black week`.
"We suspect Maoist hand behind the blast," Member (Traffic) Railway Board Vivek Sahai said.
He said the driver of the train heard a loud explosion after which the train derailed. Railways are investigating if the tracks were tampered with, he said.
Five of the 13 derailed coaches fell on an adjacent track and were hit by a goods train coming from the opposite direction, Additional Superintendent of Police, Jhargram,
Mukesh Kumar said.
Indian Air Force helicopters were pressed into service at the accident spot to airlift some of the injured to the hospitals.
Banerjee, who reached the accident spot, said a patrol engine had passed through the area half an hour earlier, but the timing of the blast proved disastrous with a portion of
the line being blown away.
She announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the next of kin of each of the dead and Rs 1 lakh for the injured.
This is the second Maoist attack on civilians this month. Naxals had blown up a civilian bus in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh on May 17, killing at least 36
people, including 12 Special Police Officers.
The West Bengal Home Secretary said that the over 200 injured have been shifted to different hospitals and the condition of some of them is critical.
"Some of the critically injured people have been brought to Kolkata for surgical treatment," he said, adding that 30 of the bodies have been sent to various hospitals for
PM, President pay condolence
President Pratibha Patil, who is in China, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed grief over the loss of lives in the incident. The Prime Minister announced Rs two lakh to
the next of the kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for the injured.
South Eastern Railway spokesman Soumitra Majumdar said the train had 24 coaches. After the explosion, 13 including 10 sleeper coaches, derailed of which five were hit by the goods train coming on the opposite track. The derailment took place at a spot, 150 kms from Kolkata.
An unreserved coach, the pantry car and luggage van also derailed, he said.
Relief officials used gas cutters to extricate trapped passengers and bodies from the mangled remains of the affected coaches. Passengers belongings lay strewn scattered on the tracks.
Angry passengers said the first signs of relief came only around 5 am, three-and-a-half hours after the incident.
Nine of the coaches which were not damaged in the blast took the injured and the other passengers to Kharagpur where they were admitted to hospital.
Anti-Maoist forces were at the spot and assisting the police and rescue personnel in extricating the bodies from four badly damaged sleeper coaches S-5, S-6, S-7 and S-8.
West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has asked state Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta to immediately rush to Sardiha, the site of the accident.
"I have been asked by the chief minister to rush to the accident site with six special rescue teams and three mobile ambulances," Dasgupta told a news agency before leaving for the accident spot.
The state government would bear the treatment cost of the injured passengers, Chief minister`s secretariat sources said.
"State government has already rushed preliminary rescue teams with doctors and ambulances and more will follow," the sources said.
Senior railway officials including Railway Board Chairman SS Khurana and DG RPF rushed to the spot.
A relief train left Kharagpur with a team of 12 doctors and 20 paramedics as also two doctors from the Kalaikunda airbase, the officials said.
"The S-5 and S-6 coaches bore the maximum brunt of the impact," Palash Ganti, a passenger, said.
Ganti, who was travelling in the B1 coach, said when he looked out of the window he found that half of the coaches had derailed and a goods train on the opposite tracks hitting
"At first, we thought Maoists have attacked to loot the train. When the accident happened no RPF personnel were present on the train," said another passenger.