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Men & machines slow

Rafiganj, Sept. 11: The rescue drive was still to pick up speed at the Rajdhani accident site on Wednesday afternoon – 36 hours into the tragedy.

Workers, engineers, army officers and two huge 40-tonne cranes made little headway as bodies and possibly even survivors lay entrapped in the mangled coaches of the superfast train.

Railway officials said most of the bodies had been extricated. But workers peering through the windows of a few of the coaches feared that there could be several bodies inside.

“The growing smell indicates that there are a number of bodies inside,” said Surinder, one of the two gas cutters working on caoch AS-3. Around 1.30 pm, he had gone inside the coach through a window after tying a rope around his waist. “There seems to be a few bodies inside. We will have to cut open the wall of the compartment.”

Neither of the two cranes could lift any of the coaches, which had telescoped into each other following the derailment and had formed three “storeys”. As the site is on a bridge, the railway cranes could not risk lifting the whole weight of a bogie at one time.

A railway engineer said the track on which the cranes were standing “would not be able to take the full weight”.

It was decided that the bogies would have to be cut in half or three parts so that the pieces could be lifted without the cranes toppling over. But with only two light-calibre gas cutters, this could take ages.

The army officer in charge of the rescue operations was, however, hopeful. “I think access to all regions of each compartment will be achieved by Thursday morning,” said Lt Col. G.K.S. Malik. “So far, 120 bodies have been taken out. We are counting numbers, we are not trying to identify them,” he said.

There seemed to be an abundance of railway engineers but few workers and gas cutters. The progress was slow, leading to relatives of passengers crowding around the minister of state for railway A.K. Moorthy when he arrived at the spot today.

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