SARDIHA, India, May 29, (AFP) -Indian rescue workers Saturday resumed the 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 mangled compartments.
“So far, 90 bodies have been recovered,” West Bengal police inspector general Surajit Kar Purakayastha told AFP. “But that's going to rise as two of the carriages that crashed into the freight train have yet to be fully searched,” he said.
West Bengal's civil defence minister, Srikumar Mukherjee, said as many as 70 passengers were still missing.
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.