The death toll of a Calcutta-Mumbai high-speed train wreck blamed on Maoist saboteurs has now reached 110, and could climb further to exceed 150 as Indian emergency teams continue to comb through the wreckage for victims.
AFP - Indian rescue workers recovered more bodies Saturday in their gruesome search for victims of a train wreck blamed on Maoist saboteurs, with fears that the final death toll could exceed 150.
More than 30 hours after a Mumbai-bound high-speed passenger train from Kolkata careened off the tracks in a remote part of West Bengal, emergency teams were still trying to cut their way into sections of the mangled wreckage.
"So far, 110 bodies have been recovered," West Bengal police inspector general Surajit Kar Purakayastha told AFP.
One badly crushed carriage has yet to be fully searched and as many as 50 passengers are still unaccounted for.
It was the deadliest Maoist attack in recent memory and is likely to ramp up pressure on the government, which has already been severely criticised for its handling of the left-wing insurgency.
The precise cause of the derailment in the early hours of Friday morning was still unclear.
Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee said Maoists had blown up the track with explosives, while police pointed to evidence that a section of rail had been manually removed.
Senior police officials on Friday had laid the blame squarely at the feet of the rebels, saying several Maoist leaflets had been left at the site of the disaster.
But Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai suggested there was still room for inquiry.
"It's likely to be them (Maoists). There is no one else in the area. But we are still checking," Pillai told AFP.
The incident occurred at around 1:30 am (2000 GMT Thursday) in West Midnapore -- a Maoist stronghold around 135 kilometres (85 miles) west of Kolkata.
The Indian Railways Board responded by cancelling nighttime services in a number of Maoist-affected areas until further notice.
Thirteen carriages, most of them packed with sleeping passengers, jumped the tracks and most of the casualties were in the four that collided with an oncoming goods train.
More than 200 people were injured, some of them critically.
"Terrorists, Not Maoists," thundered the Times of India in a front-page headline that reflected the general media mood that the left-wing extremists had forfeited their claim to be the champions of India's dispossessed.
The Maoist rebellion, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has labelled the biggest threat to the country's internal security, began in West Bengal in 1967 and has since spread to 20 of India's 29 states.
The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of landless tribespeople and farmers left behind by India's rapid economic expansion.
The Times also questioned whether the federal government might "lack the stomach for an all-out war" with the Maoists.
Until now, the government has resisted pressure to deploy the military, insisting that paramilitary and state police forces were capable of flushing the guerrillas out of their jungle bases.
But a recent series of deadly attacks has prompted a strategy review that some observers believe might see the army and air force being brought in -- although not necessarily in a combat role.
Heavy cranes arrived at the scene of the wreck Saturday, and began lifting some of the battered coaches away from the tracks.
Torn and blood-stained clothes and bags littered the site, where survivors with missing relatives hovered anxiously behind the rescue teams, with hopes fading that anyone might still be found alive.
"I've been looking for my wife and three children ever since the accident," said Surendra Singh, 38. "I found their bags... but I can't find them."
West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya said the latest attack warranted a further review of the government's counter-insurgency strategy.
"We have to find ways to counter the Maoist menace. Innocent people are being killed," he told a press briefing in Kolkata.
Date created : 2010-05-29