HYDERABAD, INDIA // At least 20 people, mostly children, were killed yesterday when a train rammed into a school bus at an unmanned railway crossing.
The train hit the bus, which was taking about 30 children to school in Telangana state, and dragged the mangled vehicle down the tracks in the village of Masaipet.
“There are 20 confirmed dead,” said K Samba Siva Rao, spokesman for South Central Railway.
Crowds pored over the site trying to move twisted metal to retrieve the small bodies inside, as parents of the dead children wailed.
A small crane and a digger tried to lift the wreckage, while school bags were stacked alongside the tracks.
Grieving, angry parents also gathered outside a nearby hospital where the injured children, some in a critical condition, were taken.
Some parents called for the sacking of senior railway officials over the incident.
Railways minister Sadananda Gowda blamed the bus driver for the tragedy, saying it appeared he did not stop at the crossing to check for trains.
“As per the preliminary information received, the incident occurred due to the negligent driving by the driver of the school bus,” Mr Gowda told parliament.
The children went to Kakatiya Techno School in the nearby town of Toopran. The school teaches children as young as two and a half, its website says.
There were discrepancies about the number of dead. Local police deputy inspector general N Suryanaarayana said that “12 students along with the driver died on the spot”.
“The cause of the accident, and whose mistake it is, we are investigating,” he said.
But Mr Rao and a school official said 20 people were killed.
“We know for a fact that 20 children have died so far,” Mr Rao said. “The children were very young, from the nursery level to the sixth standard.”
Students in sixth standard are usually nine or 10 years old in India.
The train, travelling from the city of Nanded in Maharashtra state to Hyderabad in Telangana, dragged the bus for about 90 metres, Mr Rao said. No one on the train was badly injured.
Prime minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences to the families of those killed, adding in a tweet that he “prays for the speedy recovery of those injured”.
Mr Gowda announced 200,000 rupees (Dh12,225) in compensation for the families of those killed.
Deadly train accidents are common on India’s railways, where a vast and rundown network carries tens of millions of people each day.
In 2012, a government report said almost 15,000 people were killed every year on the network, and described the deaths as an annual massacre caused mainly by poor safety standards.
In May, 26 people were killed when a passenger express travelling in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh ploughed into a stationary freight train.
An express train ploughed into a crowd of Hindu pilgrims in eastern India in August last year, killing 37.
* Agence France-Presse