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As India Grieves Train Crash That Killed 275 People, Relatives Still Wait for Bodies of Loved Ones

BHUBANESWAR, India (AP) — Families of the victims of India’s deadliest train crash in decades filled a hospital in Bhubaneswar city on Monday to identify and collect bodies of relatives, as railway officials recommended the country’s premier criminal investigating agency to probe the crash that killed 275 people.

Outside the hospital, two large screens cycled through photos of the victims, their faces so bloodied and charred that they were barely recognisable.

Each body had a number assigned to it, and relatives stood near the screen and watched as the photos changed, looking out for details like clothing for clues.

Many of them said they had spent days on desperate journeys from neighboring states, traveling in multiple trains, buses or rented cars to identify and claim bodies, a process that stretched into a third day due to the gruesome nature of the injuries.

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So far only 45 bodies have been identified, and 33 have been handed over to relatives, said Mayur Sooryavanshi, an administrator who was overseeing the identification process at the hospital in the capital of Odisha state, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the site of the train crash in Balasore.

Upendra Ram began searching for his son, Retul Ram, on Sunday, after traveling some 850 kilometers (520 miles) from neighboring Bihar state. The one-day journey in a rented car was exhausting for Ram, who said Retul, 17, had been on his way to Chennai to find work.

After spending hours looking at photographs of the dead, Ram identified his son around noon Monday.

“I just want to take the dead body and go back home. He was a very good son,” said Ram, adding that Retul had dropped out of school and wanted to earn money for the family.

“My wife and daughter can’t stop crying at home. They are asking me to bring the body back quickly,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes with a red scarf he had tied around his head.

The collision involved two passenger trains, the Coromandel Express traveling from Howrah in West Bengal state to Chennai in Tamil Nadu state, and the Yesvantpur-Howrah Superfast Express traveling from Bengaluru in Karnataka to Howrah, officials said.

Authorities recommended on Sunday that India’s Central Bureau of Investigations, which probes major criminal cases in the country, open an investigation into the crash.

Meanwhile Sunday evening, some train traffic was restored on the tracks where the crash happened, after two days of repair work in which hundreds of workers with excavators removed mangled debris of the trains.

The South Asian nation has one of the world’s most extensive and complex railway systems with more than 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) of track, 14,000 passenger trains and 8,000 stations.

Spread across the country from the Himalayas in the north to tropical ports in the south, it has been weakened by decades of mismanagement and neglect. Despite efforts to improve safety, several hundred accidents happen every year.

Most train accidents are blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment.

In August 1995, two trains collided near New Delhi, killing 358 people in one of India’s worst-ever train accidents.

In 2016, a passenger train slid off the tracks between the cities of Indore and Patna, killing 146 people.

More than 22 million people ride trains across India every day.

Saaliq reported from New Delhi

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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