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Death Toll Hits 100 in Indian Train Derailment

October 30, 2005|From Associated Press

VELIGONDA, India — The death toll rose to at least 100 Saturday after a passenger train derailed and plunged into a rain-swollen river in southern India, and scores more were trapped inside submerged cars, officials said.

Army divers and local volunteers swam out to the coaches in the town of Veligonda in Andhra Pradesh state to help pull out the injured.

Other soldiers, lowered onto the roof of the coaches by helicopter, cut through the tops of rail cars and retrieved passengers clinging to luggage racks and ceiling fans.

But many more passengers were still trapped inside the cars, at least five of which were lying on their side, partially submerged. One of the cars was resting on top of another.

"We have recovered 100 bodies so far. And some bodies may have been washed away" by fast-moving flood waters, said Thomas Verghese, general manager of India's southern railway.

Railway officials were waiting for cranes to reach the accident site to lift the submerged cars from the water.

"We were fast asleep, when there was a big bang and a thud. The next thing, the train was under water," said P. Ramesh, a passenger who lost seven family members in the derailment, including his wife and brother.

"It was pitch dark, and people were screaming," Ramesh said. "I was able to clamber out of the coach, but others were not so lucky. They are still inside."

The train -- an engine and 17 cars -- hit a portion of track washed away by flash floods, and seven coaches derailed, officials said.

Rains also washed away many roads in the area, making it difficult for rescuers and ambulances to reach the accident site. Traffic jams stretched for miles on roads leading to Veligonda, about 50 miles east of Hyderabad.

Three days of downpours caused at least three reservoirs to breach their banks, triggering the flash floods, said R. Velu, a federal junior minister for railways who visited the accident site.

Every day, at least 13 million people use the state-run rail network, which has poor safety standards.

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