Heavy rains on Wednesday affected rescue and relief operations at the site of the twin train accidents near Madhya Pradesh's Harda town in which at least 31 people were killed and 72 injured, officials said.
Access to the area was severely affected as road and air traffic came to a halt due to the rains and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had to take a relief train to reach the accident site. Chouhan, who cancelled a public meeting in Ujjain, was accompanied by state police chief Surendra Sinh and chief secretary Anthony de Sa.
Teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), personnel of the Indian Army and Railway Protection Force are helping the district administration in rescue and relief operations. Three relief trains have already reached the spot with food and other items, officials said.
Rescue workers used special cutting equipment to pull out some 300 trapped passengers after the accident that once again brought into focus the patchy safety record of the colonial-era rail network that ferries about 23 million passengers a day. The army joined the efforts and jawans could be seen dismantling coaches to look for survivors.
Harda collector Rajneesh Shrivastava said villagers have been contributing to the rescue operations and are also pitching in by providing food to victims as well as the rescue teams.
Bodies of some victims were swept 5 km away from the accident spot and were recovered in the bushes and agricultural fields.
"Rainfall has disrupted the rescue operation but we are trying our best to fish out the bodies," said Shrivastava.
Villagers said people who were trapped inside climbed atop the trains to save themselves and suffered burn injuries after coming in contact with overhead electric wires.
Rescue workers used special cutting equipment to pull out some 300 trapped passengers after the accident that once again brought into focus the patchy safety record of the colonial-era rail network that ferries about 23 million passengers a day.
Officials engaged in the rescue operations said they feared the death toll could rise.
The mishap has affected train traffic on both up and down lines and four trains have been cancelled and 72 diverted.
The Kamayani Express, which was going to Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh from Mumbai, derailed at Kudwa, 18 km from the district headquarters Harda, located between Bhirangi and Khirakia railway stations. The Janata Express, en route to Mumbai from Patna, too derailed at the same spot minutes later.
Harda town is 160 km south of Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal.
The two express trains derailed while crossing a small bridge shortly before midnight on Tuesday after flood water weakened the tracks.
Ten bogeys of Kamayani Express and seven bogeys of Janta Express were swept away in the flash flood.
The accident occurred at Kudwa, 18 km from the district headquarters Harda, located between Bhirangi and Khirakia railway stations.
Harda district public relations officer Vitthal Maheshwari said 10 women and five children were among the 31 people who died in the accidents.
'Flash floods caused derailment'
Making a suo motu statement on the incident in both Houses of Parliament, railway minister Suresh Prabhu said, "The prima-facie cause of the incident is stated to be flash floods due to heavy rains."
"The exact number of casualties are still being ascertained," he said.
The minister said a statutory inquiry has been ordered and the commissioner (safety) will conduct the probe.
Maintaining that railways was making all possible efforts to rescue the affected passengers, he said he along with junior minister Manoj Sinha will be "going personally" to the accident site to review relief and rescue operations.
The movement of trains at the spot had been absolutely normal even 10 minutes before the accident and there was no inkling of problems at the site. Another official said two trains had crossed the spot about nine minutes before the accident.
Railway officials said heavy rains in the past few days might have damaged the railway tracks.
"There was water on the tracks and the bridge was submerged. So, the last bogies of Kamayani Express got derailed. Simultaneously, on the other track, the engines and coaches of the Janata Express also got derailed," said railway spokesperson Anil Saxena.
The railways announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the next of the kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 to those who sustained serious injuries. Madhya Pradesh CM Chouhan also announced compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of the dead, Rs 50,000 for the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 for those who sustained minor injuries.
Watch: Twin train derailments in Madhya Pradesh leaves 31 dead
Floating bodies, trapped people
As rescuers initially grappled with darkness and inclement weather, survivors recounted the midnight horror after the tracks caved, leaving a row of carriages lying on their sides in a field of mud.
Manoj Mongi, a resident of Muzaffarnagar who was on board the Kamayani Express, remembers being suddenly jolted out of his sleep.
"I saw three women floating, but could not save them."
Tax consultant Shashi Bhushan Pandit, another passenger, said: "The water level on the track was almost waist-high. The current was swift... I cannot say how many people are trapped."
"It was water all around in the coach. Within a few minutes, everyone around me submerged in water. My daughter and son also vanished in water. It was a terrifying experience," said Basanti Kanade, a 68-year-old passenger from Bhopal.
Among the dead were 11 members of a family from Umrao village in Narsinghpur district of Madhya Pradesh. Jernail Singh, the head of the family, told Hindustan Times at the accident site that 14 members of the family were travelling to the pilgrimage town of Shirdi.
MP chief minister Chouhan said he has formed a committee to monitor the rescue operations. State revenue minister Rampal Singh and home minister Babulal Gaur will monitor the operations from Bhopal while forest minister Gauri Shankar Shejwar will be based at Harda.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Madhya Pradesh CM Chouhan too tweeted about the accident, offering condolences to families of the victims and providing updates on rescue operations.
The two train accidents in Madhya Pradesh are deeply distressing. Deeply pained over the loss of lives. Condolences to families of deceased.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 5, 2015
We are providing all possible Medical assistance at the site. Medical teams from various cities have been rushed in to assist in R&R ops.— ShivrajSingh Chouhan (@ChouhanShivraj) August 5, 2015
India's railway network, one of the world's largest, is still the main form of long-distance travel in the country, but it is poorly funded and deadly accidents are frequent.
The latest data by the National Crime Records Bureau shows that a total of 27,581 Indians died in 2014 in railway related accidents.
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(With inputs from Neeraj Santoshi, Mukesh Pandey, Shruti Tomar, Mukesh Pandey, Yogendra Pratap Singh and Sunil Karhalkar)Read:
First pics: Passengers reach Harda station after MP train mishap