'I can recognise his feet and hands'
Relatives desperately sought news of their loved ones on Thursday as medical workers struggled to identify mangled corpses a day after about 150 people died in Pakistan’s worst train crash in 15 years.
Stations across the country have been thronged with people frantically searching victim lists posted by the authorities after the three-train pile-up early on Wednesday near the southern town of Ghotki.
Thousands of others travelling in buses, trains and trucks flocked to hospitals near the crash site, where, for some, severed body parts held the answer they had been dreading.
“I can recognise his feet and hands,” said sobbing Allah Ditta, who came to Ghotki hospital from Bhawalpur, a town in central Punjab province, to search for his missing brother.
A senior rail official said on Wednesday that 150 people had died, while doctors at the hospital said 164 people were killed. A Pakistan railways press release would only confirm 138 deaths.
Officials said they were trying to identify nearly 100 unclaimed bodies, which lay shrouded by white sheets in the courtyard of the small government hospital nearly 36 hours after the collision.
Ice blocks and fans were used to cool the bodies because of the lack of a nearby mortuary.
“We have so far handed 37 bodies to their relatives, but 96 bodies are still lying at the hospital as their identification has not yet been established,” railway police officer Shafi Mohammad Mughal said.
“We are trying our best to find the family members so they can be laid to rest,” he said.
Muslim funerals are supposed to be held as soon as possible after the person’s death and usually take place within one day.
“Most of the unclaimed bodies do not have faces and heads and we have gathered hands, feet and torsos,” said Amanullah, a volunteer from the private Edhi Welfare Trust, Pakistan’s largest charity.
The accident happened when one of the trains, the Quetta Express, stopped for repairs at Sarhad station, 7km from Ghotki, and the Karachi Express coming from Lahore smashed into it in the early hours.
A number of carriages were catapulted on to a parallel track and a third train, the Tez Gam Express heading for Islamabad’s twin city of Rawalpindi, then careered into them.
Rail chiefs on Wednesday blamed the driver of the Karachi Express, who died in the crash, saying he misread a green signal meant for the stationary train.
However, as a team of senior investigators arrived at the site, railway sources said on condition of anonymity that the Quetta Express should have been taken to a loop line for repairs instead of staying on the main line.
Four officials, including the Quetta train’s driver and fireman, a point man and the local station master, have gone missing.
Railway police said it is not clear if they were killed or fled to avoid arrest after the crash.
Meanwhile, the government has also set up toll-free telephone hotlines and crisis centres at railway stations following the crash.
But it is no consolation for some.
“My two sons were on the Karachi express, but I am completely in the dark,” said Lutafullah Khan (58) outside Lahore station. “I will never smile again until I hear good news about my boys.”
Hundreds of people have died in recent years on Pakistan’s ageing railway system.
In 1991, another crash at Ghotki between a passenger train and a goods train killed 50 people, according to authorities, and between 100 and 200 according to press reports.
A year earlier, more than 350 people were killed and 700 injured when a goods train collided with a passenger train in Sangi, near Ghotki.—Sapa-AFP