At Least 65 people Killed in Train Wreck Blamed on Maoist Rebels

NEW DELHI — In eastern India at least 65 people were killed and more than 200 injured when a high speed train derailed and collided with another train. Officials say they suspect sabotage by Maoist rebels caused the derailment.

Most passengers were sleeping when 13 carriages of the passenger train derailed and fell on an adjacent track, where they were rammed by a freight train coming from the opposite direction.

The Mumbai bound train originated in the eastern city of Kolkata in West Bengal. The crash occurred early Friday near the small town of Sardiha.

Several carriages overturned completely. Some were badly crushed.

Rescue teams worked for hours with blow torches and cutters to extricate those trapped inside. Helicopters were used to evacuate the injured.

Survivors who escaped from the mangled heap of metal described scenes of chaos. Many distraught passengers tried desperately to locate loved ones – children, brothers, sisters, other relatives and friends.

Many hours after the crash, this survivor said he was waiting to get news of his brother, who had been traveling with him.

Officials were not certain what exactly caused the derailment. In a statement, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said a section of the track had been cut, but it was not clear if explosives were used. He did not directly blame Maoist guerrillas.

But other top officials pointed the finger at the guerrillas.

The head of police in West Bengal state, Bhupinder Singh, called it a clear case of sabotage by Maoist rebels. He said police found posters at the crash site in which a Maoist-backed group, the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities, claimed responsibility for the crash.

Singh says metal plates used to secure tracks were removed. He recounted what the train driver told authorities.

“He heard the sound of an explosion and also felt some vibrations in the engine, and thereafter the train derailed,” he said.

The crash occurred as Maoist rebels called for five days of protests or a “Black Week” starting Friday in five eastern and central states where they are dominant. This includes West Bengal state, the scene of the train crash.

The Sardiha area where the derailment occurred is a stronghold of the guerrillas.

The rebels, who say they are fighting for the rights of the poor and the landless, have stepped up attacks in response to a government operation to flush them out of their strongholds. Earlier this month, rebels blew up a bus in Chhattisgarh state, killing 35 people. In April, 76 paramilitary soldiers were killed in a massive rebel attack.

The government calls the rebels India’s most serious internal security threat.

— Anjana Pasricha, Voice of America

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