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The death toll from a three-train collision in eastern India has risen to at least 288, according to the Director General of Firefighting Services in Odisha State, Sudanshu Sarangi, on Saturday morning.
Sarangi confirmed to AFP this new death toll, while more than 850 others were also injured as a result of this accident that occurred on Friday evening, amid fears that many would be stuck under the vehicles. An earlier toll put the death toll at 207.
Footage broadcast by local stations showed smashed cabins, bloodstains on twisted metal parts, and dozens of passengers lying on the sides of the track near Balasore, about 200 km from the regional capital, Bhubaneswar.
Sarangi told AFP that the death toll “is rising due to the large number of serious injuries and head injuries.”
“About 850 injured people have been taken to hospitals,” local official in Odisha state Pradeep Gina told AFP, stressing that relief work is continuing.
“The top priority now is to rescue (the passengers) and provide health support to the injured,” he added.
Amitabh Sharma, director of Indian Railways, told AFP that the accident occurred between two trains and a freight train that was parked at the site where the collision occurred.
Relief teams are working to pull injured people from the wreckage, amid fears of a high death toll.
“It is very difficult to estimate the number of casualties on the ground or to clarify the number of wounded,” Sharma said, expressing his belief that many passengers were stuck under the vehicles.
“Doctors and medical teams have been dispatched to the scene,” a medical official in Balasore told AFP.
For his part, a survivor said in a statement to a local news station that he was sleeping when the accident occurred, and he woke up to find himself stuck under about ten passengers, so that he could later find a way to get out of the cabin, and he was injured in his neck and arm.
Local media reports showed scenes of a train carriage overturned on one side of the track with what appeared to be survivors on top, and residents trying to recover victims.
SK Panda, a spokesman at Gina’s office, described the incident as “significant”.
“We expect the rescue operations to continue until at least (Saturday) morning. On our part, we have prepared all the large hospitals, both governmental and private, to meet the needs of the wounded,” he said.
The spokesman added that “75 ambulances were sent to the site and a number of buses were deployed” to transport the wounded and survivors.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his “sadness over the train accident”.
In a tweet, he indicated his “solidarity with the bereaved families,” wishing the wounded a “speedy recovery.”
Modi announced that he had contacted Railways Minister Ashwini Vishnu and briefed him on the situation.
Vishnu confirmed that he will go to the scene of the accident. “Rescue teams from Bhubaneswar, Calcutta, National Disaster Response Force, State Government teams and Air Force have been mobilized,” he said via Twitter, stressing that “we will need everyone in rescue operations.”
India often witnesses train accidents, despite the enhancement of railway safety conditions in recent years, thanks to huge investments and modernization of the technologies used.