Hirakhand Express tragedy: Death toll climbs to 34, over 60 injured; foul play suspected
At least 34 passengers were killed and over 60 injured as the engine and nine coaches of the Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Hirakhand Express derailed.
Kuneru: At least 34 passengers were killed and over 60 injured as the engine and nine coaches of the Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Hirakhand Express derailed in Vizianagaram district of Andhra Pradesh with the railways suspecting foul play in the mishap.
Additional Divisional Railway Manager Ajay Arora said so far 34 deaths have been confirmed in the mishap that took place on Saturday night.
He said railway officials have identified 18 bodies and process was on to identify the remaining.
The toll may go up as many passengers are feared trapped in the mangled coaches of the train which derailed around 11 pm last night when it was on its way to Bhubaneswar from Jagdalpur.
The engine and nine coaches of the train went off the track near Kuneru station, Chief PRO of East Coast Railway JP Mishra told PTI.
Odisha DGP KB Singh put the death toll in the derailment at 32.
Railways suspect that tampering of the track near Kuneru station led to the derailment of the train.
"There is a strong indication of tampering with the track as the area is known to be a Naxal-prone zone and as Republic Day is approaching. Foul play cannot be ruled out," sources said.
According to the sources, "A goods train had safely passed the same track. The patrol man had also checked the track. However, the driver of the train heard a big cracker-like sound just before the derailment and there appeared to be a big crack on the track which caused the derailment."
Terming the incident as "saddening", Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the Railway Ministry was monitoring the situation very closely and working to ensure quick rescue and relief operations.
He also wished for speedy recovery of all those injured.
"My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones due to derailment of Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Express. The tragedy is saddening. I pray for a speedy recovery of all those injured due to the train accident," he said in a tweet.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik expressed deep grief over the tragedy and wished speedy recovery of the injured passengers.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu reviewed the situation with ministers from north coastal Andhra and asked them to rush to the accident spot to supervise rescue and relief measures.
"We are investigating the cause of the mishap," the Chief Minister said, expressing anguish over the tragedy.
"I have directed administration to undertake relief and rescue operations. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has expressed his condolences. He has also announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs 2 lakh to the family of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to the seriously injured," he said.
An inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the circumstances that led to the accident, the CPRO said.
A family of five from Bihar was among those killed in the mishap.
Rayagada Sub-collector Muralidhar Swain said the number of injured could be around 100. The casualty figure may go up as many people are feared trapped under the mangled coaches, he added.
District administration of both Vizianagaram and Rayagada are taking active part in rescue operations, said Mishra.
Rayagada District Collector Guha Poonam Tapas Kumar, who rushed to the site, said immediate steps were taken to undertake rescue operation.
Train services were affected on Rayagada and Vijayanagaram route, with at least five trains cancelled and around eight others diverted.
Thirteen unaffected coaches of the train, which had 22 bogies, including luggage-cum-guard van left for Rayagada and will proceed to Bhubaneswar via Sambhalpur-Angul route. If necessary, additional coaches would be added at Rayagada, Mishra said.
As many as 15 buses were also arranged to take the stranded passengers towards Palasa and Berhampur areas. Railways have tied up with Parvatipuram bus depot to arrange for transport. Five buses have already been arranged to take the passengers towards Palasa and Berhampur areas.
Over 12 ambulances have been deployed to take the injured to hospital.
At Parvatipuram government hospital, 22 injured people were taken for treatment from where seven with grievous injuries were referred to Visakhapatnam. 32 were taken to Rayagada district hospital, Mishra said.
Two units of Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) were engaged for the rescue operation.
In Delhi, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu said a team of doctors have been rushed to Andhra Pradesh and he is in touch with authorities to ensure speedy delivery of relief measures to injured and stranded passengers.
Condoling the death of passengers of the ill-fated train which derailed in Kuneru in the state, Naidu said that the situation is being monitored closely and he has asked authorities to extend medical and other relief to the injured immediately on war footing.
"I am in talks with the concerned authorities to ensure speedy delivery of relief measures to the passengers stranded and wounded. Priority is on promptly shifting the passengers to nearby hospitals and a team of doctors has been rushed to the site. The situation is being monitored closely," he said.
Raigada DM Guha said rescue operations continued overnight with the whole administration including CRPF, medical teams and police at the spot.
The injured have been admitted to a hospital in Raigada and to Parvatipuram hospital in Vizianagram district in Andhra Pradesh. Majority of the passengers have suffered fractures.
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