The horrific disaster took place when the Patna-bound train’s coaches ran off the rails just after 3 a.m. near Pukhraya station, about 60 km from Kanpur, railway and police officials said.
Uttar Pradesh Inspector General of Police Zaki Ahmed told IANS that the deaths stood at 96.
The passengers were asleep when the disaster struck, stunning everyone. The first to derail were the S1 and S2 coaches, which suffered the maximum damage, followed by 12 other coaches.
Survivors later told journalists that rescue and relief teams from the government arrived after the day break.
“It is a very unfortunate and tragic situation,” Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh told the media.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi mourned the deaths and announced ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh for the next of kin of those killed and Rs. 50,000 for those seriously injured.
Officials said soldiers and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams were frantically cutting through the mangled coaches to pull out bodies and the injured.
Within an hour, thousands of people from neighbouring villagers had poured at the site in a bid to help out the injured and survivors.
Some passengers complained that there had been unexplained noises in the S1 coach but the train staff did not pay heed. The train halted twice for reasons which are not yet clear.
Railway officials rushed the injured to nearby hospitals and fear that the deaths may go up further.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu ordered an inquiry into the accident.
The railways announced Helpline numbers: Jhansi: 0510-1072; Urai: 0516-21072; Kanpur: 0512-1072; Pukhraya: 05113-270239; Kanpur Dehat: 0511-271050.
“Enquiry team will start investigation for cause of accident immediately. All necessary assistance provided to the affected, We are taking care,” Prabhu tweeted.
“Strictest possible action will be taken against those who could be responsible for accident,” he added.
Prabhu also announced ex-gratia compensation of Rs 3.5 lakh to the kin of the deceased, Rs 50,000 to each of the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 to each of the others injured.
Vice President Hamid Ansari and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav have expressed grief over the loss of lives.
Ansari said: “I am deeply grieved and shocked at the tragic loss of life and injuries…”
“I convey my heartfelt condolences to the members of the bereaved families and pray to the Almighty to give them strength and fortitude to withstand this immense loss.