NELLORE, INDIA (BNO NEWS) -- A Chennai-bound express train packed with sleeping passengers caught fire in southern India early Monday, killing more than 30 people and seriously injuring dozens more, railway officials said. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.
The fire broke out just before 4:20 a.m. local time in the train's fifth coach from the rear but was only discovered when the train passed through the Nellore Railway Station in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The station operator then immediately ordered the train to stop and emergency services were called.
South Central Railway spokesman K. Sambasiva Rao said firefighters reached the scene at 4:40 a.m. and brought the blaze under control by 5:20 a.m. "As per the latest information available, the rescue teams have retrieved 28 dead bodies from the ill-fated S-11 coach and in addition four more bodies in unrecognizable condition have also been recovered," he said.
In addition to the 32 fatalities, a total of 28 people were rushed to six area hospital, where some of them remained in a critical condition. The deceased were identified as nineteen men, six women, three children, and the gender and age of the four other victims not immediately known. The injured were identified as twenty-two men and six women between the ages of 15 and 57.
Railway officials said most of the passengers were asleep when the fire broke out, starting near the back of the train before spreading and filling the entire train with thick smoke. Authorities have announced they will be paying a compensation to families of the deceased and to injured people.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed his shock and grief over the loss of life in Monday's accident, according to a statement from his office. "He has conveyed his condolences and sympathies to the kin of those who have died in the accident and the injured," the statement said.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known, but both the Ministry of Railways and South Central Railway have announced an investigation into the incident.
India's railroad network is the fourth largest in the world and carries more than 14 million passengers and over a million tonnes of freight daily. But accidents are common, mainly as a result of poor maintenance and human error.
On May 22, at least 25 people were killed and more than 70 others were injured when a Hampi Express train crashed into a stationary freight train at the rail station in Penukonda, a small town in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh state. Investigators said the Hampi Express train likely crossed a red signal, either by a fault on the train driver's part or because of a technical problem.
And in July 2011, a total of 70 people were killed and more than 300 others were injured when a passenger train bound for the Indian capital of New Delhi derailed in Uttar Pradesh state. Just hours later, another passenger train derailed in western Assam state, injuring around 50 people.
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