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Over 280 people are dead and 900 injured after 2 trains derailed in India

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

One of the worst train disasters in decades occurred in India last night. More than 280 people are dead and about 900 injured after two passenger trains collided. The state where the crash took place has declared a day of mourning. Reporter Shalu Yadav joins us from Delhi. Thanks very much for being with us.

SHALU YADAV, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Can you tell us what happened?

YADAV: Well, this horrific accident happened late on Friday evening in the eastern state of Odisha in Balasore district - that's about 140 miles from Kolkata - when multiple coaches of a passenger train derailed before being struck by another passenger train, which, in turn, derailed as well. Now, there's a third train, a freight train, that's believed to be involved in the accident as well. Visuals on the television and social media show the coaches and the wreckage still lying on the railway tracks, dead bodies being carried away from the spot, even as the scale of this tragedy is still panning out. Now, we have one of the survivors on tape though, unfortunately, we don't have his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

YADAV: He said he woke up from the impact once the train derailed and saw multiple people piled on top of one another. When he left his carriage, he saw someone had lost their hand. Another person had lost their leg. And someone else's face was disfigured. Officials say the death toll is expected to rise further as more bodies are found. The cause of the accident is yet to be ascertained. A probe has been ordered, and the prime minister held a high-level meeting to review the situation. He's visiting the site today.

SIMON: Hundreds of people are reported to be injured. How are the local authorities in Odisha prepared to handle all the people who need help?

YADAV: Well, Scott, the authorities, as well as the hospitals, are completely overwhelmed. There have been more than 200 ambulances there taking the injured to the hospitals. Those who survived have been looking desperately for their loved ones. And locals are rushing in large numbers to donate blood at the hospitals. In fact, they had been helping the rescue teams and provided them with supplies of food and water overnight. The National Disaster Response Force, along with the Rapid Action Force and police forces, had all been working against the clock as every minute is precious to save lives in such situations.

SIMON: India's railway network is huge, and dozens of accidents happen every year, some of them deadly. What kind of efforts are going on to try and improve safety?

YADAV: Yes, that's right, Scott. India's railway network is actually one of the oldest and largest in the world. It's always a work in progress. And, yes, accidents are very common despite the government investing hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the infrastructure. The latest accident is believed to be the worst India has seen in the last two decades. Now, such mishaps are mostly blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment.

SIMON: And we have to ask if there are any political implications from this disaster that might occur.

YADAV: Well, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been getting a flak on social media for the negligence that often causes such tragedies. People are asking why the government is spending more on high-speed trains when the older passenger trains remain outdated and prone to disasters. But politically, such tragedies often bring all parties together to look for solutions and immediate relief for victims. Even so, there are calls for the resignation of the railway minister as many are saying that he should take responsibility for this tragedy.

SIMON: Journalist Shalu Yadav in Delhi. Thanks so much for being with us.

YADAV: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Shalu Yadav