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India's worst train accident in two decades has left several hundred injured

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

At least 275 people have died and hundreds more are injured after a train crash in the Indian state of Odisha in eastern India on Friday. It seems two passenger trains were derailed when one hit a cargo train. It's one of the worst train crashes in Indian history and the worst in several decades. Sandeep Sahu went to a nearby hospital yesterday and can tell us more. Good morning, Sandeep.

SANDEEP SAHU, BYLINE: Good morning.

RASCOE: So what do we know about what happened on Friday?

SAHU: One of the passenger trains, which was coming from the eastern Indian city of Shalimar and traveling to Chennai - that hit a stationary goods train at the Bahanaga station in eastern Indian state of Odisha. And once the collision took place, 12 carriages of the train got derailed and landed on an adjacent track where there was another train coming from the opposite direction. And the three carriages of the second train were also derailed in the collision. One of the carriages landed on top of the carriage of another train. So there were three trains involved, and it was a horrible, horrible accident that has left at least 275 people dead.

RASCOE: And you spoke to people in a hospital there about what they saw. Can you tell us about that?

SAHU: I met this woman who was with her family and she had boarded the train just 15 minutes before the crash. She was traveling with her husband and two sons, and they all were critically injured in the mishap. She and her youngest son were admitted in this Balasore hospital, and her husband and eldest son were shifted to a medical facility in Cuttack City, which has better medical facilities. And she was very distraught, unable to know anything about the condition of her husband and son. So she was very worried. She was very critically injured, but she was more worried about the fate of her husband and her youngest son.

This morning, there were five bodies extricated from the mangled remains of the train that met with an accident. And they were lined up in a school building nearby. While I was having a look at the bodies, the mobile phone inside the pocket of one of the victims started ringing. It was obviously someone close to that person who was desperately calling without quite knowing that this person is already dead. So that was a very touching scene.

RASCOE: Oh, wow. But there was some good news from that. Like, were there any ones who were rescued alive?

SAHU: Yes, yes, yes. It was a miracle of sorts. Even the railway officials and others engaged in the rescue operation - they had all assumed that there will be nobody alive in the accident site. But they were surprised to find one person who had got stuck in the mangled remains. He was rescued this morning alive, and he was immediately rushed to the hospital. That was a surprise because it has now been more than 36 hours after the accident.

RASCOE: Have officials said who is to blame or how this horrific accident happened?

SAHU: A top railway official said today that the preliminary findings of the ongoing inquiry suggest that it was a signaling error which led to the accident. But he was not willing to give any more details, and he was not very forthcoming about who will responsible. But the prime minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, who was here yesterday - he has said that strict action will be taken against anyone found responsible for this accident.

RASCOE: That's Sandeep Sahu in Balasore, thank you so much for joining us.

SAHU: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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