Two trains derailed in India in the eastern state of Odisha on Friday, Indian news reports said, killing as many as 50 people and injuring hundreds more in an accident that deeply shook the country.
Amitabh Sharma, a railroad ministry spokesperson, was quoted by The Times of India as saying that 10 to 12 coaches of one train derailed and that some of the debris then encroached on a nearby track, where it was hit by another train.
Indian news reports described harrowing scenes as teams of rescue workers with dogs and cutting equipment labored frantically to free survivors and the injured who were trapped in the train wreckage.
Video footage of the scene of the crash showed stunned onlookers, and Indian news reports said more than 50 ambulances had arrived to the area, along with teams of doctors to tend to the injured. The number of dead was not confirmed, but the reports said it was feared to be at least 50 people.
Odisha’s chief secretary, Pradeep Jena, was quoted by The Times of India as saying at least 550 people had been injured.
Ashwini Vaishnaw, the minister of railways, said on Twitter that the National Disaster Response Force, a specialized disaster response group, had been mobilized, along with rescue workers from the air force.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India offered his condolences on Twitter. “Distressed by the train accident in Odisha,” he wrote. “In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon.”
Indian news reports said that as news of the crash spread, along with reports of mounting casualties, desperate relatives went to Howrah Station in West Bengal, where one of the trains had been heading, eager to determine the status of their loved ones.
At Howrah, one man, Sapan Chowdhury, told The Indian Express he was hugely relieved to learn that his 23-year-old daughter was alive, though she had been injured by glass shards.
India’s railways transport more than 13 million people a day, according to Indian Railways, but the system has been buffeted by years of neglect. In 2014, there were more than 27,000 train-related deaths, according to the country’s National Crime Records Bureau. In 2012, a committee appointed to review the safety of the rail network cited “a grim picture of inadequate performance largely due to poor infrastructure and resources.”
It recommended a host of urgent measures, including upgrading track, repairing bridges, eliminating level crossings and replacing old coaches with safer ones that better protect passengers in case of an accident.
Passenger safety, or the lack of it, has come under scrutiny in India in recent years. In 2016, more than 140 passengers died in the derailment of passenger coaches near the city of Kanpur. In the weeks after that accident, two more people died in another derailment of passenger coaches in the same stretch of track.