At least 50 people have died after a fire swept through a moving train bound for the southern Indian city of Chennai, local officials say.
The fire was discovered at a railway station in Nellore, in Andhra Pradesh state early on Monday, B Sreedhar, the local administration chief, said.
The blaze has been extinguished and at least 22 injured people have been hospitalised. The coach was completely gutted, with rescuers forced to use gas cutters to access parts of it. Sreedhar said the fire was believed to have been caused by a short circuit in the coach, though a railways ministry spokesman said it may have been caused by “someone carrying inflammable materials on the train”.
After the fire was discovered, Sreedhar said, the stricken section was detached from the rest of the train to prevent the blaze from spreading. Al Jazeera’s Prerna Suri, reporting from New Delhi, said that survivors were sharing some “horrifying” accounts of the fire.
“They say that since this accident happened at 4:30am local time (23:00 GMT on Sunday), most passengers were asleep, and so when the fire broke out, most did not have much time to escape. Some are saying that the doors were also jammed, literally trapping a few people inside,” she reported.
The fire on the New Delhi-Chennai train was reported at Nellore, a town nearly 500km south of Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh state.
Sreedhar said the rescue operation was continuing, and that identifying the dead was a difficult task. “Some of the bodies are charred beyond recognition,” he said, adding that officials are making preliminary identification based on the reservations chart from the train’s records.
Images of the site showed thick black smoke still pouring out of the charred carriage, as dawn broke over the accident scene. Dozens of rescuers, survivors and crowds of onlookers milled around the burned carriage, as the charred bodies of victims were pulled out of the wreckage and laid in rows alongside the railway line.
Family members of the victims wailed and screamed, while other dazed survivors sat quietly with their belongings. The carriage was designed to carry around 70 people, and was travelling at about 110km per hour when it passed through Nellore station.