Two express trains collided in Pakistan early on Monday morning, killing at least 38 passengers and injuring dozens more people.
The crash happened before dawn in Sindh province in southern Pakistan when the Millat Express derailed and the Sir Syed Express train hit it soon afterwards. The reasons for the initial derailment and the subsequent collision were not immediately clear.
A total of eight carriages of the Millat Express and three – including the engine – of the Sir Syed Express were derailed in the incident. According to railway officials, almost 1,100 passengers were onboard the two trains at the time.
Rescuers and villagers were working throughout the morning to pull injured people and bodies from the wreckage.
Usman Abdullah, deputy commissioner for the Ghotki district, said the death toll steadily rose through the day, and hours later increased to at least 38.
Authorities said the toll could rise further because rescuers had not yet been able to access some of the mangled train compartments.
Umar Tufail, a police chief in Ghotki, said between 15 and 20 passengers were still trapped in the wreckage of the Millat Express and that authorities were trying to arrange heavy machinery to rescue them.
Several local news channels said that heavy machinery had still not reached the scene some four hours after the crash.
Footage of the accident on social media and local media showed ambulances taking the injured, some of whom were in critical condition, to hospital.
Mr Tufail said a medical relief camp had been set up at the accident site to provide urgent medical aid to the injured passengers.
Malik Aslam, a local villager, told Pakistan’s Geo News TV channel that about 100 people were injured and that he had counted at least 30 bodies of passengers during the rescue and recovery work.
Mohammad Amin, a passenger on the Millat Express who suffered minor injuries, told the Associated Press from a hospital that before the train departed from the southern port city of Karachi, he and his brother, who was also on the train, saw railway mechanics working on one of the coaches.
That led them to believe there was something wrong with it, but they were reassured at the time that all was fine. The train car that was being worked on was the one that later derailed, claimed Mr Amin.
Aijaz Ahmed, the driver of the Sir Syed Express, told Geo News TV that on seeing the derailed train, he braked in an attempt to avoid an accident but was unable to do so in time. Mr Ahmed did not explain how he survived the crash.
Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, expressed shock and asked the country’s railways minister to travel to the site.
“Shocked by the horrific train accident at Ghotki early this morning leaving 30 passengers dead. Have asked railway minister to reach site & ensure medical assistance to injured & support for families of the dead. Ordering comprehensive investigation into railway safety faultlines,” tweeted Mr Khan.
Azam Swati, the minister for railways who later travelled to the scene of the crash, said that engineers and experts were trying to determine what caused the collision and that all aspects would be examined, including the possibility of sabotage.
Habibur Rehman Gilani, the chairman of Pakistan Railways, said that the segment of the railway tracks where the accident took place was old and needed replacing but refused to elaborate further, reported Geo News TV.
Naz Baloch, a member of Pakistan’s national assembly, expressed sadness and tweeted: “The colonial-era railway system of Pakistan requires complete revamp. #TrainAccident”
The media reports quoted an official statement from the Pakistani army that said it was assisting in the relief and rescue operation. It said that a military doctor and paramedics, along with ambulances, had reached the incident site, and other resources had been moved to carry out necessary relief and rescue work.
The statement said a special army-engineer team was being airlifted to the crash site to speed up the relief and rescue efforts. The army also deployed two helicopters for casualty evacuation and to speed up relief measures.
Additional reporting by agencies