Days after Odisha train accident, desperate search for kin continues
Odisha chief secretary Pradeep Jena said the government was making progress, with 170 of the 275 bodies identified, a number that was 88 on Sunday evening.
On Monday morning, Rajkumari Paswan walked gingerly from one room of the Balasore district headquarters hospital to the other. She first scanned the surgery ward; then orthopaedics; then back to surgery. A day before, Paswan had made the trip from her home in Champaran, along with two sisters and a brother-in-law, with a single minded focus. They wanted to find Rajkumari’s younger brother Amarjit, one of the occupants of the ill fated Coromandel Express that was involved in one of India’s worst train accidents in three decades years on Friday, among the injured. But even three days after the accident that left 275 dead and over 1,100 injured, Rajeshwari’s struggle to locate her brother is emblematic of a growing challenge; reuniting those injured, particularly critically, with their families, and identifying bodies of the dead.
At a railway accident help desk on Monday afternoon, a volunteer attempted to guide Rajkumari to other hospitals in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. An exhausted Paswan said, “I never thought that I would have to travel to a hospital to search for my brother. I feel hopeless.”
Immediately after the collision between the trains that took place a little before 7 pm on Friday, the bodies of the dead were first piled up at the Bahanaga primary school because of its proximity to the accident site. By Saturday however, with morgues overflowing, and summer causing quick decomposition, bodies were first shifted to an air conditioned hall in Balasore. On Sunday night, 120 of these bodies were sent to AIIMS Bhubaneswar through 60 special ambulances. In the same way, many of the injured were first treated close to the accident site, either at primary health centres near Bahanaga, or in Balasore. Since then, they have been referred to various hospitals such as SCB Medical College and Hospital of Cuttack, and some private hospitals.
Like Rajkumari Paswan, Baisakhi Dhar from Bankura of Bengal has also spent the last two days in the desperate search for her husband, Nikhil Dhar, who works for the CRPF. When she reached the accident spot on Saturday morning, and identified herself, she was given his luggage and mobile phone by the local police. She searched first in the pile of bodies at the Bahanaga high school, travelled to the Balasore district hospital as instructed, and has now been asked to hunt for the body in hospitals in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. In her hand, all through the search, has been Nikhil Dhar’s CRPF cap, which she found at the site. “It has been more than three days, but still there is no news about my husband. What do I do?” asked Dhar.
Close to Dhar, Biplab Pal of Purulia was distraught as well. For two days he has searched for the body of his 10-year-old nephew, who was traveling on the Yesvantpur Howrah Express with his sister, Chanchal Pal. On Sunday, he found Chanchal being treated at the Balasore Hospital, but his little nephew was not next to her. On Monday, he left for AIIMS Bhubaneswar to search for his remains at the mortuary there.
Odisha chief secretary Pradeep Jena said the government was making progress, with 170 of the 275 bodies identified, a number that was 88 on Sunday evening. “The Odisha government will send the bodies to their respective destinations at its own expense. Besides, we will send the death certificate to the family members of the deceased at the earliest. People from across the country can call the two toll-free numbers 1800-3450061/1929 to get necessary information about the deceased and injured persons undergoing treatment at hospitals in the state,” said Jena.
Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said that the government’s focus through the day has been to reach out to families of passengers. “In Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, wherever we have information, railway officials are trying to reach the kin. I appeal to families from across the country that for whatever you need, contact numbers have been given. They should be used and we must move forward,” Vaishnaw said.