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People search for loved ones and morgues fill after deadly train derailment in India

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Desperate families are looking for their loved ones in the Indian state of Odisha. Many people are still missing after a horrific train accident killed more than 270 and injured more than 1,100 people on Friday. There's a crunch at the morgues, scores of bodies still unclaimed. Authorities say a signal fault was the likely cause of the accident. With Sandeep Sahu in Odisha, Shalu Yadav sent this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELLPHONE RINGING)

SHALU YADAV, BYLINE: An incoming call from a loved one trying to reach out to one of the victims. But it remains unanswered as the victim's body lay lifeless.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS BLARING)

YADAV: Many bodies are still unclaimed and unaccounted for at the school in Odisha's Balasore city, which was turned into a morgue because of its proximity to the accident site. The dead bodies were first brought here on Friday and kept for identification by families. The hole in the school has blood all over the floor and walls, and a stench has started to overpower the surroundings as bodies start to decay in the heat.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken, crying).

YADAV: Outside the school, a woman broke down as she heard that her son's body might be here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

YADAV: "My son did not get to see much of the world. My child - he was trying so hard to find a job," she says. The disaster that killed her son on Friday was the worst train accident India has seen in nearly two decades. It shattered the dreams of hundreds of families across the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN CLICKING)

YADAV: With a faint chance of finding survivors anymore after the authorities declared completion of their rescue work, some families are now turning to mortuaries. Mukul Singh is looking for his 22-year-old nephew and neighbor.

MUKUL SINGH: (Through interpreter) I have been looking for them since Friday night, but I haven't had any luck. I am going everywhere and anywhere people are pointing me to go. I couldn't find them even at the hospitals. I am now looking through the dead bodies to see if they are here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

YADAV: While the morgues are teeming with desperate family members looking for the remains of their loved ones, the hospitals are overwhelmed with hundreds of injured. Debaki Patra is still in shock as she recounts the moment when the tragedy struck.

DEBAKI PATRA: (Through interpreter) I boarded the train, along with my husband and two sons, at around 6:30 p.m. The train was packed with people. Fifteen, 20 minutes later, we felt a huge thud, and we were thrown off the carriage. My eldest son pulled my husband and my younger son out of the wreckage. I broke my arm, and they are now being treated in a different hospital.

YADAV: A preliminary investigation indicates that the accident was the result of a signal failure. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visibly disturbed when he visited the hospital on Saturday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: (Through interpreter) This is an extremely serious incident. The government is taking this very seriously. The culprit will not be spared.

YADAV: But even as he promised justice for the victims, serious questions are being raised about the safety standards of India's railways, a lifeline for the world's most populous country, ferrying about 25 million passengers every day. Yet with frequent accidents like this, it seems India's lifeline now needs a lifeline. With Sandeep Sahu in Odisha, for NPR News, I'm Shalu Yadav in Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Shalu Yadav
Sandeep Sahu