Train tragedy toll 138, all bodies extricated

Jhargram (West Bengal), May 30 (IANS) The death toll in Friday’s train accident in this West Bengal town shot up to 138 late Saturday as the extrication of dead bodies from the wreckage of the Gyaneshwari Express was completed after 44 gruelling hours of rescue operations.

‘The toll is 138. The job of extricating dead bodies from the derailed coaches is complete,’ a South Eastern Railway spokesman said.

The last body was brought out from the devastated second class sleeper coach S 5 at 9.45 p.m., ending almost two days of search operations, a large part of which was conducted amidst the putrefying stench of decaying corpses.

In Kolkata, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the train disaster, terming it her political rivals’ conspiracy ahead of Sunday’s civic polls in West Bengal.

The number of the injured stood at 146, of whom 38 were said to be in a serious condition.

The wounded were under treatment in hospitals in the nearest towns of Kharagpur and Midnapore – the headquarters of the West Midnapore district. Twenty-three of them are admitted in various hospitals in Kolkata.

With many of the bodies mutilated beyond recognition, the authorities have decided to conduct DNA tests for identification before handing them over to their relatives.

West Bengal Civil Defence Minister Srikumar Mukherjee said blood samples of the bodies will be collected Saturday at the Midnapore Medical College and Hospital and sent to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) in Kolkata by Sunday.

The minister appealed to those looking for their missing relatives to give their blood samples at the CFSL – one of the premier forensic labs in the country – by Sunday.

A relief train carrying the survivors of the train reached Mumbai at 9 p.m. Special barricaded sections were made on the platform number 5 of Lokmanya Tilak Terminus in Kurla where the train arrived.

Family members surrounded their kin as they got down from the train. The atmosphere became emotional as many broke down in tears while some thanked god for saving their kin.

Meanwhile, the driver of the train filed a police complaint saying he heard a ‘blasting sound’ and felt a jerk before the derailment.

B.K. Das, who lodged the complaint against ‘unidentified miscreants’ at the Jhargram Government Railway Police (GRP) station, claimed that he saw smoke billowing out before applying the emergency brakes.

The complaint was filed under sections 150 (maliciously wrecking or attempting to wreck a train) and 151 (damage to or destruction of certain railway properties) of the Railways Act.

The train went off the track between Sardiha and Khemasuli railway stations, after suspected Maoists removed 1.5 feet of rail track, at 1.30 a.m. Friday, rudely shaking the hundreds of sleeping passengers. Five coaches fell on a parallel track.

Even before the trapped passengers could realise what had happened, a speeding goods train coming from the opposite direction rammed into the five coaches, crushing some of them.

Police found two posters put out by the Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities at the accident site, claiming responsibility for the sabotage.

It was the third worst train accident this year blamed on Maoist guerrillas and the worst bout of killings by the rebels since they massacred 76 security personnel in Chhattisgarh April 6.