At least 27 passengers were killed and around 100 injured after nine coaches of the Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Express derailed in Vizianagaram district of Andhra Pradesh with the railways suspecting foul play in the mishap.
The toll may go up as many passengers are feared trapped in the mangled coaches of the train which derailed around 11 PM last night when it was on its way to Bhubaneswar from Jagdalpur.
The engine and nine coaches of the train went off the track near Kuneru station, Chief PRO of East Coast Railway J P Mishra told PTI. So far, death of 27 persons has been confirmed by a team of doctors that has rushed to the spot, said Mishra.
Railways suspect that tampering of the track near Kuneru station led to the derailment of the train.
"There is a strong indication of tampering with the track as the area is known to be a Naxal-prone zone and as Republic Day is approaching. Foul play cannot be ruled out," sources said.
Terming the incident as "saddening", Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the Railway Ministry was monitoring the situation very closely and working to ensure quick rescue and relief operations.
"My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones due to derailment of Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Express. The tragedy is saddening.I pray for a speedy recovery of all those injured due to the train accident," he said in a tweet.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik expressed deep grief over the tragedy and wished speedy recovery of the injured passengers.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu reviewed the situation with ministers from north coastal Andhra and asked them to rush to the accident spot to supervise rescue and relief measures.
"We are investigating the cause of the mishap," the Chief Minister said, expressing anguish over the tragedy.
"I have directed administration to undertake relief and rescue operations. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has expressed his condolences. He has also announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs 2 lakh to the family of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to the seriously injured," he said.
An inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the circumstances that led to the accident, the CPRO said.
As the mishap took place in a Maoist-affected area, possibility of foul play cannot be ruled out and all aspects would be thoroughly probed, said a railway official.
Rayagada Sub-collector Muralidhar Swain said the number of injured could be around 100. The casualty figure may go up as many people are feared trapped under the mangled coaches, he added.
District administration of both Vizianagaram and Rayagada are taking active part in rescue operations, said Mishra.
Rayagada District Collector Guha Poonam Tapas Kumar, who rushed to the site, said immediate steps were taken to undertake rescue operation.
Train services were affected on Rayagada and Vijayanagaram route, with at least five trains cancelled and around eight others diverted.
Thirteen unaffected coaches of the train, which had 22 bogies, including luggage-cum-guard van left for Rayagada and will proceed to Bhubaneswar via Sambhalpur-Angul route. If necessary, additional coaches would be added at Rayagada, Mishra said.
As many as 15 buses were also arranged to take the stranded passengers towards Palasa and Berhampur areas.