MEHRABPUR, Pakistan (eTN) – Plunged into darkness and chaos, Shahid Khan used the light from his cell phone to escape the wreckage of an express train that had been taking holiday travelers home.
It was 2 a.m., and what was left of the train, crowded with 900 people heading from Karachi to near Lahore in southern Pakistan, lay scattered about a waterlogged field, with cries from the trapped and injured ringing out.
At least 58 people died and 150 more were injured when about 12 of the 16 cars came off the rails near Mehrabpur, about 250 miles north of Karachi.
“The train was going at full speed. Then there was a sudden jerk and we felt the train sinking into the earth. There was chaos everywhere,” said the 25-year-old Khan, sitting next to bundles of luggage he had salvaged from a car lying on its side. He had been traveling with six relatives.
Another passenger, Mohammed Yusuf, sat on a pink blanket next to a pile of shoes and clothes, wailing in grief at the death of his younger brother.
Yusuf, 26, said his brother survived the impact and was crying out in pain, but was unable to free his trapped leg from the wreckage.
“It’s unbearable. Don’t say that he is dead,” he pleaded, as other relatives tried to console him.
He said his wife, two children and another brother were injured and taken to a hospital, their conditions unknown.
It was unclear what caused the accident, which left hundreds of terrified passengers trying to claw their way out of the wreckage in total darkness.
Mohammed Khalid, a railway official who was traveling in one of the rear cars that stayed on the rails, said he suspected a problem with the track.
“My guess is that there was some piece of rail missing and the engine jumped the missing track and the following wagon got stuck,” he said.
After the crash, a section of one rail had been torn loose. The engine came to a halt about a mile farther up the line.
Brig. Nazhar Jamil, the army officer in charge of the relief operation, said an initial inspection of the track found no sign of sabotage. He said excessive speed coupled with poor maintenance might have been to blame. The train had been full, but not overcrowded.
Rescuers brought 58 bodies to three nearby hospitals, said Mumtaz Ali, an official from the Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s largest privately run emergency service.
Col. Abbas Malik, an army doctor, said about 150 people were injured. Many of the passengers were heading home for the holiday of Eid al-Adha, when Muslims commemorate the prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God.
Army engineers used two cranes and cutting equipment to free the last survivors, including a girl about 3 years old who had a bloodied left foot.
Dozens of soldiers and police helped tend the injured and carry them away to ambulances, as hundreds of people from the surrounding villages looked on.
Deadly accidents are a regular occurrence on Pakistan’s colonial-era railway network.
A speeding train struck a crowded bus at a railway crossing near Lahore in October, killing 12 people and injuring about 50. About 130 people died in July 2005 when three trains collided in southern Pakistan.