Balasore/Howrah, June 3
From the top of a nearby highrise, the accident site looked like as if a powerful force had thrown train coaches on top of each other, in a haphazard but “wrathful” manner.
The rescue workers with gas cutters and medical personnel with stretchers looked like an army of busy soldier ants marching about in a purposeful manner.
The wail of ambulance sirens and whistles of policemen warning onlookers from coming too near the site punctuated the sound of electric saws and gas cutters whirring to clear the debris and rescue trapped passengers.
“It will take at least another three hours to reach everybody trapped in the debris,” said Odisha Chief Secretary PK Jena.
Officials said 200 ambulances, a large fleet of state transport buses, mobile health units from various districts besides 1,200 disaster relief personnel and firemen have been pressed into service.
Cranes and bulldozers have been brought in to raise a coach which has been buried by the impact of another wagon falling on it. But these have as yet not been able to budge the heavily built coaches.
“Special cranes will be brought in from Kolkata to lift these wagons and bring out the buried wagon,” said officials.
Closer to the ground mangled steel and bloodied and disfigured bodies lying enmeshed with each other created a grotesque sight.
“Some of the scenes at the site were too gory to describe,” said a passenger.
Railway tracks were almost destroyed at the spot as mangled coaches lay strewn all over, with some having mounted on another, while a few coaches turned turtle due to the impact.
Pijush Poddar, a resident of Berhampore in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district, was travelling to Tamil Nadu in the Coromandel Express to join work there when the accident happened.
“We were jolted and suddenly saw the train bogie turn on one side. Many of us were thrown out of the compartment by the momentum of the derailment. When we managed to crawl out, we found bodies lying all around,” he said.
Poddar is one of the lucky ones whose phone has survived and has been able to speak to his relatives.
“I have a problem with my right shoulder but am not going to the hospital…whatever is to be done, I will do at Kolkata, I just want to go home now,” he said grimly.
Locals said they heard consecutive loud sounds, following which they rushed to the spot and found the derailed coaches, which were nothing but “a mangled heap of steel”.
“We were working at a construction site when the accident occurred. The sound alerted us…we ran here and tried to help in whatever way we could, pulling out people, giving them water, bandaging their bleeding limbs with whatever we could lay our hands on,” said Deepak Bera, 45, a foreman at a construction site.
“The local people really went out on a limb to help us…They not only helped in pulling out people but retrieved our luggage and got us water, ” Rupam Banerjee, one of the passengers, told reporters.
Balasore district hospital looked like a war zone with the injured lying on stretchers in the corridor and rooms bursting at the seams with extra beds propped up.
Harried medical staff were seen trying to bring succour to patients many of whom are from states other than Odisha and had difficulty in communicating. In all some 526 railway accident victims have been admitted to this one single hospital.
Policemen and locals have been volunteering to donate blood at this and many hospitals through the night, said officials. More than 2,000 people gathered at the Balasore Medical College and Hospital in the night to help the injured, and many also donated blood, officials said.
The morgue at the hospital was a pile of white shrouded bodies, many of them yet to be identified as relatives are yet to make their way to the town with many train services cancelled or delayed due to the accident on a major railway trunk route.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik declared one-day state mourning on Saturday in the wake of the deadly triple train crash.
Meanwhile, at Howrah, a crowd of anxious relatives thronged a platform where a relief train is expected to come in from Kharagpur carrying survivors including lightly hurt ones.
Said a visibly upset Bhawani Shankar Sharma, “I am waiting here for my daughter…I do not know how she is…we managed to speak for a few seconds from someone else’s phone.”