India train disaster updates: Hundreds dead; what to know about US train safety

The death toll had risen to over 280 Saturday as rescuers in eastern India continued to sift through the wreckage of one of the country's deadliest train derailments in decades.

More than 900 people were injured after a passenger train derailed, causing between 10 and 12 cars to wreck in Odisha, about 137 miles southwest of Kolkata. Some of the debris from the crash scattered onto another track, causing at least three cars from a second passenger train to derail as well, Railroad Ministry spokesperson Amitabh Sharma said.

Local media reported a third train carrying freight was also involved in the accident.

“This is very, very tragic. I have never seen anything like this in my career," Sudhanshu Sarangi, director of Odisha state's fire and emergency department, told The Associated Press.

Here's what we know about the crash and the rescue operation:

Are rescuers still searching?

Officials said they found no more survivors and they were recovering the bodies of people killed in the crash overnight.

“By 10 p.m. (on Friday) we were able to rescue the survivors. After that it was about picking up dead bodies,” Sarangi said.

About 200 of the most severely injured survivors were transported to specialty hospitals in the region, while another 200 were discharged after receiving treatment Friday night, P.K. Jena, a top official, said. Hundreds more injured people were being treated at local hospitals.

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"The challenge now is identifying the bodies. Wherever the relatives are able to provide evidence, the bodies are handed over after autopsies. If not identified, maybe we have to go for a DNA test and other protocols," he said.

About 1,200 rescuers worked with 115 ambulances, 50 buses and 45 mobile health units through the night, officials said. They declared Saturday a day of mourning in the state. Residents from the local village also rushed to the site to help.

The rescue scene was at times chaotic, with people climbing over wrecked pieces of the trains to break open doors and windows. Bodies lay on the ground covered by white sheets. Rescuers were working in oppressive heat, with temperatures reaching up to 96 degrees.

What caused the crash?

The crash happened at about 7 p.m. local time, Reuters reported. The Press Trust of India reported that one of the derailed trains was a Coromandel Express traveling from Howrah in West Bengal state to Chennai, the capital of the southern Tamil Nadu state. The other train, a Howrah Superfast Express, was traveling from Bengaluru in Karnataka to Howrah, officials said.

It wasn't immediately clear which train derailed first. An initial government report cited a possible cause of the derailment as a signal error, Reuters and The New York Times reported.

Aditya Kumar Chaudhary, the chief public relations officer for Southern Eastern Railways, told the Times that the cause has to be further investigated to confirm.

One passenger, Vandana Kaleda, said the accident caused people to fall over each other, as her coach shook violently and veered off the tracks.

“As I stepped out of the washroom, suddenly the train tilted. I lost my balance. ... Everything went topsy turvy. People started falling on each other and I was shocked and could not understand what happened. My mind stopped working," she said.

Another survivor said he was sleeping and was woken up by the impact. He told NDTV he saw people with missing limbs and disfigured faces.

Rescue workers recover victims' bodies from a carriage wreckage of a three-train collision near Balasore, in India's eastern state of Odisha, on June 3, 2023.

Are train crashes common in India?

The crash Friday was one of India's worst in decades. In 2016, 146 were killed and over 200 were injured when a passenger train slid off the tracks between the cities of Indore and Patna. In 2018, a train ran over a crowd of people watching a fireworks show during a religious festival in northern India, killing at least 60.

It comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is focusing on modernization of railways in the country. He was scheduled Saturday to unveil a high-speed train between Goa and Mumbai that had new collision-avoidance technology, but the event was cancelled after Friday's crash. The trains involved in the crash Friday didn't have the new system.

Several hundred train accidents occur every year in India, which has the largest train network under one management in the world.

BALASORE, INDIA - JUNE 03: A police man maintains vigil near the wreckage of three trains that crashed on June 03, 2023 in Bahanaga village in Balasore district, India. Local media reports said that the death toll from the deadly crash, about 200km from Odisha's state capital Bhubaneshwar, was approaching 300 as emergency services continued to comb through the wreckage for victims. (Photo by Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775986380 ORIG FILE ID: 1495653234

What to know about train safety in the US

The United States sees thousands of its own train derailments and accidents. Safety data from 2021 to 2022 found an average of three derailments reported every day on U.S. railways.

Most aren't deadly or even dramatic enough to make the news, but they can be costly: Railroads have to to report any derailment that causes more than $10,700 in damage.

Earlier this year, cars from a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed near East Palestine, Ohio, creating plumes of smoke and prompting concerns about air, water and soil quality as nearby residents and cleanup officials reported illnesses.

Train accidents in FloridaWest VirginiaMichiganOklahomaAlabama and Nebraska this year all drew attention as railroads saw heightened scrutiny after the Ohio disaster.

READ MORE: How often do trains crash in the US?

Most U.S. derailments happen in freight yards at lower speeds with minimal damage, experts say. Passenger train derailments are less common. Last year, railroad deaths totaled 978, the highest since 2007, according to the National Safety Council. Most happened while people were trespassing on train tracks, not because of derailments or crashes. Seven passengers were killed last year, compared to 11 railroad employees.

Contributing: Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: India train disaster updates: Hundreds dead; US train safety