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Train Crash Toll Rises to 210 Dead, 700 Hurt : Pakistan: An improperly set railroad switch is blamed for the early morning collision.

January 05, 1990|From Associated Press

KARACHI, Pakistan — Soldiers with acetylene torches cut into crushed railroad cars Thursday searching for victims of Pakistan's worst train wreck, which officials said killed at least 210 people and injured 700.

Television showed rows of bodies wrapped in blankets near the wreckage of an overcrowded 16-car passenger train that was switched onto the wrong track early Thursday and struck a freight standing in a village station.

The locomotive was overturned and several cars were crushed or ripped open. Bodies, baggage and debris were strewn near the wreckage.

Officials at the scene said 210 people were known dead, and Pakistan Railways said rescuers have recovered 165 bodies. The engineer of the passenger train survived.

The passenger train Zakaria Bahauddin, named for a Muslim saint, was on a 450-mile overnight run southwest from Multan to Karachi with many more passengers than its 1,408-seat capacity, said Muktar Ahmad Abassi, regional traffic officer for Pakistan Railways at Sukkur, 225 miles north-northeast of Karachi.

Near Sukkur in Sind province, the train approached Sangi village, which it was supposed to bypass, but an improperly set switch threw it onto a siding where an empty 67-car freight train was standing, he said.

Abassi said the passenger train was traveling at least 35 m.p.h. when it hit the freight, and the result was "the worst rail accident in Pakistan's history."

The first three cars, built to hold 88 passengers each, were demolished and the next two were badly damaged, Abassi said. The remaining cars stayed on the track and later were hauled to Karachi.

Most of the dead were in the first three cars and many passengers in the next two were seriously injured, officials said.

Local villagers awakened by the noise of the crash hurried to the scene and worked by the light of kerosene lanterns to free the injured. Soldiers from a nearby base later took over the rescue operation.

Medical workers said hundreds of people went to Sangi and Sukkur to donate blood in response to an appeal on Pakistan radio.

Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto expressed "her deep sense of shock and grief" and dispatched her railway minister and other authorities to the scene to start an investigation.

Hazul Baksh, a municipal official in Sukkur, said some of the injured were taken by helicopter to Karachi and other cities because of overcrowding in the city's seven hospitals, which have a total of 300 beds.

Pakistan's worst previous railway accident happened in 1958 and took more than 150 lives.

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