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A man searches desperately for his nephew, who is missing after India's train crash

Railway workers help to restore services at the accident site of a three-train collision near Balasore, India, on Sunday.
Punit Paranjpe
/
AFP via Getty Images
Railway workers help to restore services at the accident site of a three-train collision near Balasore, India, on Sunday.

DELHI, India — Phoni Madan has been desperately searching in hospitals and morgues for his nephew, Nitam Roy.

Roy, a 30-year-old construction worker, was southbound on one of the trains which crashed in India's eastern state of Odisha on Friday night, killing at least 275 people and leaving more than 1,000 injured in the country's deadliest train crash in decades.

Amid scorching summer heat, rescue workers struggled through upended and mangled wreckage of two passenger trains, on which 2,000 people were on board at the time of the crash, to rescue survivors and bring out the dead bodies.

Hospitals in the town of Balasore and surrounding cities were flooded with injured — who were ferried in ambulances, tractors and private cars — as the death toll rose over the weekend. Dead bodies, covered by white sheets, lay on the rail tracks near the wreckage, while rescuers and local volunteers pushed to bring out hundreds of trapped passengers from the rail cars under the twisted metal and shattered glass. Air force choppers and Indian army soldiers were also pressed into service to help rescuers and transport the injured to hospitals.

Nitam Roy, 30, is missing after the train he was travelling in crashed in the eastern state of Odisha in India. Relatives of Roy, a construction worker, have not been able to contact him.
/ Roy family
/
Roy family
Nitam Roy, 30, is missing after the train he was travelling in crashed in the eastern state of Odisha in India. Relatives of Roy, a construction worker, have not been able to contact him.

Roy boarded the train earlier on Friday at Howrah near Kolkata and was on way to Chennai from where he was scheduled to take another train to Kerala, where he was supposed to work on a construction project in a remote village.

As soon as news of the train collision was broadcast on news channels and posted on social media, his family tried to reach him on his phone, but in vain.

Madan rushed to the scene, arriving there on Saturday morning.

"I searched in hospitals and at a school near the accident spot where four dead bodies were kept, but my nephew was not among them," said Madan, who works as a farmer near Kolkata and had to borrow money to take this journey.

Roy's name has been missing from the list of passengers from which officials have been identifying the victims.

Madan said Roy was traveling on the train without tickets. Madan told NPR that Roy belonged to a poor family and was the only breadwinner in the family of six.

Every day, thousands of poor people travel in Indian trains without a reservation from one place to another. These compartments, always crammed, and with people even sitting on the floor, are referred to as "general" coaches.

"I met many injured people here who told me that the general coaches were fully packed and there was barely any space to even walk," said Madan.

Madan says he has spent all of his money in search of his nephew and cannot go to other hospitals.

"I saw the faces of over 100 dead people but could not find my nephew," said Madan. "The bodies are in bad condition. Some cannot even be recognized."

Preliminary investigations found the derailment was caused by an error in the electronic signaling system, railway officials say

Rescue workers inspect damaged carriages at the accident site of a three-train collision near Balasore on Sunday.
Punit Paranjpe / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Rescue workers inspect damaged carriages at the accident site of a three-train collision near Balasore on Sunday.

Initial findings have revealed that the train derailment was caused by an error in electronic signals that put a train onto the wrong tracks. India's railway minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, who is facing calls to resign, has been monitoring the rescue and restoration efforts from the accident spot and said on Sunday that it will come out in the investigation "who has done it and what is the reason."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also visited the crash site on Saturday to examine the relief effort and later met some injured people and doctors in a hospital.

Modi said he felt the pain of those who suffered in the accident and promised the victims that the government would try its best to help them and strictly punish anyone found responsible.

Many people are still searching for their relatives who were on board the ill-fated trains.

"Government is not helping us. I am a poor man and cannot travel hundreds of kilometres, from one city to another, in search of a dead body," said Madan. "They should take names from us and inform us.

Madan has been showing photographs of Roy to everyone he meets with the hope that he can at least find some trace of his nephew.

Roy is the father of a 6-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl.

Madan accuses authorities of hiding dead bodies to show an undercount of the dead.

Baisakhi Dhar (left) weeps as she arrives to identify the body of a missing relative kept inside a school on Sunday in Bahanaga village in Balasore district, India.
Abhishek Chinnappa / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Baisakhi Dhar (left) weeps as she arrives to identify the body of a missing relative kept inside a school on Sunday in Bahanaga village in Balasore district, India.

"I met around 50 people who are not able to find their relatives. It seems the government does not want real figures of the dead to come out," he alleges. "Otherwise, where would the dead bodies go?" he asks.

Authorities on Sunday said that there are around 200 dead bodies of train accident victims, lying in different morgues, that have yet to be identified. A website has also been launched to help relatives of victims in identifying them.

While the full results of the investigation are still pending, Indian Railways spokesperson Jaya Varma Sinha said on Sunday that the driver of the train that derailed first and crashed into a halted cargo train has sustained serious injuries, and said "the train moved forward only after it received a 'green' signal. Neither did he jump any signal nor the train was overspeeding."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Aakash Hassan
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