NEW DELHI • Anguished survivors joined rescue workers in looking for their relatives in overturned carriages yesterday following the train crash in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state.
Many were sleeping when 14 carriages of the Indore-Patna Express leapt from the tracks in Pukhrayan, 65km south of Kanpur city. Shocked passengers recalled being jolted out of their slumber by a violent thud.
"I woke up suddenly around 3.10am and felt a tremor. The train came to a screeching halt," survivor Yaqoob Ahmed told the Hindustan Times newspaper.
"All of a sudden, I was crushed under a crowd of people... everyone was screaming for help."
Another survivor, Mr Rajdeep Tanwar, said: "I can see bodies lying near the tracks, everyone is in a state of shock."
Local media reports said the train was packed with families, some of them travelling home for weddings with the marriage season in India in full swing.
I can see bodies lying near the tracks, everyone is in a state of shock.
MR RAJDEEP TANWAR, a crash survivor.
Bride-to-be Ruby Gupta, who survived the accident with a fractured arm, was desperately searching for her father. "I have been looking everywhere for him," she told the Press Trust of India.
Student Nitika Trivedi, who boarded the train with her family, said images of the victims' bodies would long haunt her. "I have never seen anything like this in my life before. I am shaken to the core," she said.
Anxious relatives thronged the station in Indore in central India where the train originated, many clutching pictures of their loved ones.
Hundreds of army and police have been deployed at the scene of the crash, where rescue workers used gas-powered metal cutters to slice through severely mangled coaches to try to get to survivors.
"We have been able to pull out 24 people, out of which five were found to be alive," said Brigadier A. Chhibbar, who is leading the army's rescue operations.
Police said over 120 people had been killed and another 150 injured were rushed to nearby hospitals, which had been placed on high alert after the early morning disaster.
It is the worst disaster since 2010 when a passenger train crashed into a freight train in the eastern state of West Bengal, killing 146 and injuring over 200.
Authorities have launched an official investigation into the accident, which junior railways minister Manoj Sinha said may have been caused by damage to the tracks. They were also checking if the air brakes that would have prevented the disaster had failed, but added they would need to look further before concluding the cause of the accident.
"We are trying to clear the tracks and complete the restoration work as quickly as possible," said Mr Vijay Kumar, a spokesman for north-central railways.
India's railway network, one of the world's largest, is still the main form of long-distance travel in the vast country, but it is poorly funded and deadly accidents occur relatively frequently.
A 2012 government report said almost 15,000 people were killed every year on India's railways, describing the deaths as an annual "massacre".
In 2014, an express train ploughed into a stationary freight train, also in Uttar Pradesh, killing 26 people. Last year, 27 people died when two trains derailed in Madhya Pradesh state during heavy rain.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has pledged to invest US$137 billion (S$195 billion) over five years to modernise the crumbling railways, making them safer, faster and more efficient.
Mr Modi yesterday tweeted that he was "anguished beyond words" by the loss of life in the latest accident.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS