MULTAN, Pakistan (AP) — Two express trains collided in southern Pakistan early on Monday, killing at least 38 passengers, authorities said, as rescuers and villagers worked to pull injured people and bodies from the wreckage.
The pre-dawn collision took place in the district of Ghotki, in Sindh province. The Millat Express train derailed and the Sir Syed Express train hit it soon afterward, said Usman Abdullah, a deputy commissioner. It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the derailment and the subsequent collision.
Cries for help pierced the night as survivors scrambled to get out and local villagers rushed to the scene to help. As daylight broke, up to 20 passengers remained trapped in the wreckage of the Millat Express and authorities were trying to arrange heavy machinery to rescue those still trapped, said Umar Tufail, a police chief in the district.
“The challenge for us is to quickly rescue those passengers who are still trapped in the wreckage," Tufail said. The death toll steadily rose through the morning, and hours later, Abdullah said it had increased to at least 38. Dozens were injured.
Earlier, Azam Swati, minister for railways who headed to the scene of the crash, told The Associated Press that engineers and experts were trying to determine what caused the collision, and that all aspects would be examined, including the possibility of sabotage.
According to railway officials, about 1,100 passengers were on board the two trains, and arrangements were also being made to assist the survivors.
The military said troops were participating in the relief and rescue. It said military doctors and ambulances were dispatched from a nearby city and a team of military engineers was sent to Ghotki by helicopter.
According to local media, some of the passengers were traveling by the Millat Express train to attend a wedding party but it was unclear whether they were among the dead or injured. TV footage showed ambulances transporting injured passengers to hospitals. According to Pakistani TV stations, heavy machinery had not reached the scene about four hours after the crash.
Pakistan’s prime minister expressed his deep sorrow over the tragedy. Imran Khan said on Twitter that he had asked the railway minister to supervise the rescue work and also ordered a probe into the crash.
Aijaz Ahmed, the driver of the Sir Syed Express told Pakistan's Geo News TV that on seeing the derailed train, he tried his best to avoid the accident by braking but failed. He did not explain how he survived.
At nearby hospitals, some of the injured passengers were listed in critical condition. Malik Aslam, a local villager, told Pakistan's Geo News TV that about 100 people were injured and that he had counted at least 30 bodies while helping with the rescue work.
Mohammad Amin, one of the passengers on the Millat Express who had minor injuries, told the AP 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 one of the coaches.
That led them to believe there was something wrong with it but they were reassured all was fine. The train car that was being worked on was the one that later derailed, Amin claimed.
Habibur Rehman Gilani, chairman of Pakistan Railways, told Geo News TV that the segment of the railway tracks where the accident took place was old and needed replacing. He did not elaborate.
Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where successive governments have paid little attention to improving the poorly maintained signal system and aging tracks.
In 1990, a packed passenger plowed into a standing freight train in southern Pakistan, killing 210 people in the worst rail disaster in Pakistan’s history.
Ahmed reported from Islamabad.