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Train derails in Pakistan; rescuers say at least 125 dead

March 3, 1997

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ A runaway passenger train jumped the tracks in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province today, killing at least 125 passengers and crew.

Pakistan’s state-run news agency said 450 passengers were injured when the express train’s brakes failed a mile outside of Khaniwal, 240 miles southeast of Islamabad.

Ambulances carried away 125 bodies _ including 24 children, rescue and hospital workers said. The death toll was expect to rise, since 50 of the injured were in serious condition, the news agency reported.

Hours after the accident, many riders remained trapped inside the overturned railway cars, said Shamshed Iqbal, another ambulance worker. Some of the cars rolled on top of others, making rescue much more difficult.

``You can hear the people screaming for help, but we can’t reach them,″ Iqbal said. ``We are having trouble getting to them.″

The government called in the army to help. Rescue workers used torches to cut their way into the cars.

Carrying 1,500 people, the 17-car train was en route from Peshawar in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier province to southern Karachi on the Arabian Sea when it derailed early this morning.

The train was apparently ordered to stop to make way for a second passenger train that was leaving Khaniwal, railway authorities said.

When the operator of the train realized the brakes had failed, he drove the train onto a track for runaway trains. It jumped the tracks and the first five cars overturned, rail officials said.

Most of the dead and injured were sleeping in these cars when the accident occurred, said Iqbal.

Villagers from Khaniwal were some of the first on the scene, pulling the bodies from the overturned rail cars and covering them with white shrouds, witnesses said.

It took at least 15 ambulances to carry the dead and wounded to nearby towns.

``The bodies are still arriving. Many of them are barely recognizable,″ said Omar Hyatt, a worker at Khaniwal Hospital.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took a helicopter to the scene of the accident. He also went to the hospital in Khaniwal, where hundreds of people gathered to donate blood.

Pakistan’s train system is antiquated and there are frequent accidents.

The country’s deadliest train accident occurred in 1989 when two passenger trains slammed into each other in southern Sindh province killing 850 people.

Update hourly