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In India, survivors of crash still suffer

Bloodied survivors of one of India's worst train wrecks lay stunned and distraught in an overflowing hospital Wednesday, coping with memories of a collision that crumpled steel, flipped carriages and crushed entire families to death.

At least 283 people were killed and hundreds more were injured in this remote corner of northeastern India where two trains smashed into each other head-on early Monday. A blackened heap of mangled coaches was still piled near the tracks where the accident occurred, but only a few bodies were thought to be left in the debris.

In Islampur hospital, 12 miles north of the crash site, dozens of survivors were being tended by a small staff of doctors and nurses.

Some of the injured were splayed on the floors. Others were being treated in the hospital lobbies, and others lay in bed, weeping.

O.P. Shah, a businessman who suffered minor injuries, lost his wife and three children in the collision. All were crushed and brutally disfigured.

"Even though I was bleeding heavily from my wounds, I took a search for my family," he said. "Despite confusion all around and the gory scene inside the wrecked compartment, I could locate my family."

Only his eldest daughter, Ritika, was still alive. She was taken to the Islampur clinic with her father but died there.

"It would have been better for me had I also died with the rest of my family," Shah said as tears rolled down his face.

Krishnapada Roy lay on a bed in the clinic and described watching his elder brother, Manabendra, dying in front of him. Krishnapada said his brother, who was impaled by a chunk of debris, had raised him since childhood.

"I sat beside him crying," Krishnapada said. "Even in very severe pain, my brother advised me to escape. I saw him dying, then I decided to jump through the broken window."

By Wednesday afternoon, rescuers had searched inside all the train compartments. But as many as 40 more bodies were thought to be sandwiched in chunks of the debris.

Most of the bodies recovered so far have been so disfigured that they could not be identified. A row of corpses covered in short white sheets lay beside the wreckage, their feet jutting out.

Families _ terrified that a brother, sister, parent or child might be lying under one of those sheets _ were taken down the line of bodies by rescue workers who uncovered the face of each victim in turn.

Officials who had been planning a mass cremation of the decomposing bodies today said they will wait a few more days. Hundreds of people related to the victims of the train tragedy were scheduled to travel in special trains from across the country to the small town of Siliguri where most of the bodies have been kept, to look for their kin.

The accident occurred in darkness, as many passengers slept. Nearly 2,500 people were on board the two trains when one was diverted onto another track.

Both were traveling about 60 mph when they collided near Gaisal station, about 310 miles north of Calcutta.

Chief Commissioner of Railway Safety N. Mani began an investigation into the collision Wednesday. He will question witnesses and submit a preliminary report by the middle of the month.

Mani is expected to question three railway signal operators who were working at the time and briefly fled before returning. One other signal operator was still missing, officials said.

It was one of the deadliest train accidents in India's history. In 1995, 358 people were killed in a train wreck near New Delhi, and in 1981, nearly 800 died when a cyclone blew a train off the tracks into a river in the northern state of Bihar.

India has the world's largest railway network under one management, with more than 14,000 trains carrying 12-million people daily. The system is plagued by accidents, which happen at a rate of more than one a day.