October 29, 2005

At least 77 dead as train derails in south India

By S. Radha Kumar

VELUGONDA, India (Reuters) - Air force helicopters and navy
divers plucked bodies from the mangled mess of a derailed
passenger train in swirling flood waters in a southern Indian
state on Saturday, as officials confirmed 77 deaths.

They feared the death toll could rise to 150.

Seven coaches of a passenger train skidded off the tracks
at Velugonda, about 30 km (18 miles) south of Hyderabad,
capital of Andhra Pradesh, at around 4.20 a.m. (2250 GMT).

The accident occurred after a small bridge collapsed due to
the force of water which burst out of a nearby irrigation tank
after torrential rains, said P. Krishnaiah, chief public
relations officer of southcentral railways.

Many irrigation tanks have burst and low-lying areas have
been inundated in Andhra Pradesh after a storm hit the coastal
state on Friday afternoon.

"Seventy-seven bodies have been recovered and some more are
expected to be retrieved," said Brigadier Jyoti Prasad, an army
officer at the accident site.

Krishnaiah had earlier told Reuters he feared up to 150
people could have died in the accident.

Indian Air Force helicopters lifted several bodies from the
deluge, which completely or partially submerged some of the
train's coaches. Navy divers were also hunting for bodies,
which when found were dragged out of the water using ropes.

One of the train coaches was completely smashed while at
least four were submerged in water. The coaches came up after
the tank breach was plugged.

Railway officials were searching for bodies washed away
downstream. Naval boats were being used and rescue workers were
also searching bushes for entangled bodies.

Elsewhere in the storm-ravaged state, 35 people died in
incidents of house collapses, drowning and electrocutions in
Nellore, Chittoor and Prakasham districts, the state's disaster
management commissioner, D.C. Rosaiah, said.

"Twenty-five of them died in wall collapses and drowning in
Nellore district alone," he said.

The official said nearly 150 people, including 55
fishermen, were missing as swollen streams swept away several
cars, autorickshaws and a bus in the affected districts.

The storm was triggered by a depression over the Bay of
Bengal, according to weather officials.

Power supply in six Andhra districts including Kadapa was
also cut.