At least 26 dead as fire sweeps express train in India

KOTHACHERUVU, India  - A fire engulfed two coaches of an express train in southern India on Saturday, killing at least 26 passengers, many of whom became trapped and suffocated after the doors failed to open, officials said.

As the inferno and thick black smoke raced through the two cars at about 3:45 a.m., panicked passengers broke the windows and many saved themselves by jumping from the train.

Sixty-seven passengers were in the two cars when the fire broke out about 2 kilometers (1 mile) from the small town of Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh state, said a spokesman for the railways, C.S. Gupta.

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Police officers stand by the bodies of passengers killed in a train accident at Kothacheruvu, about 155 kilometers (96 miles) north of Bangalore, India, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013. A fire engulfed two coaches of an express train in southern India early Saturday, killing dozens of passengers, many of whom became trapped and suffocated after the doors failed to open, officials said.
Aijaz Rahi, AP
  The train was brought to a halt and the two coaches were delinked from the rest of the cars to prevent the fire from spreading, Gupta said.

Firefighters put out the blaze and retrieved at least 26 bodies, including two children, said a railway official at the site of the fire. More than a dozen people were brought to hospitals with injuries sustained when they jumped from the coaches, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Firefighters had to force the doors open and make their way through the smoke-filled coaches to reach the dead, the official said.

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An elderly woman watches hospital staff and volunteers carry charred bodies of passengers near the site of a train accident at Kothacheruvu, about 155 kilometers (96 miles) north of Bangalore, India, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013. A fire engulfed two coaches of an express train in southern India early Saturday, killing dozens of passengers, many of whom became trapped and suffocated after the doors failed to open, officials said. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
Aijaz Rahi, AP
 Many bodies were found near the jammed doors, he said.

Medical teams carried out autopsies to identify the bodies, many of which were charred beyond recognition.

The train was traveling from Bangalore to Nanded in the western state of Maharashtra.

Railways Minister Mallikarjun Kharge said preliminary reports from the site indicated that the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit. An investigation was underway.

Accidents are common on India's railroad network, one of the world's largest, with some 18 million passengers daily. Most collisions and fires are blamed on poor maintenance and human error.

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