SANGI, Pakistan -- A speeding passenger train hurtled into a stationary freight train in Sindh Province Thursday, killing more than 200 people and injuring more than 300 others in the worst railway disaster in Pakistan's history, officials said.
Survivors estimated fatalities at more than 300.
The crash trapped people inside wreckage and troops were brought in to help with rescue operations, which were hampered by a shortage of equipment and hospital space. Police said the crash was due to the negligence of railway personnel.
The assistant Sangi station master was charged with negligence because he allowed the freight train to remain in the station when it was supposed to have been moved off the main line.
The collission occurred at about 12:30 a.m. in dense fog in the railway station of the rural town of Sangi, about 350 miles north of the Sindh provincial capital of Karachi, officials said.
The 16-car Zakaria Bahauddin Express was bound for Karachi from the Punjab Province city of Multan with about 1,000 passengers, most of them asleep, when it smashed at about 65 mph into the freight train parked in the station.
The express engine and the first four carriages shattered into pieces, hurling bodies, luggage and wreckage for yards along the tracks. Villagers living as far as 5 miles away heard the crash, officials said.
The next three carriages were reduced to twisted wrecks. The eighth car was partially buried and troops used blow torches to cut into the wreckage to extract bodies and survivors, some of whom were trapped for more than 13 hours.
'There was an explosion and with a bang, I was thrown from my bunk,' said Mohammad Jatoi, a businessman from Multan who was rescued unhurt from the eighth car. 'It looked as if I was in hell. There were dead bodies all around.'
The driver of the express, apparently unable to stop his engine in time, jumped out just before the impact and was being sought by police.
More than 200 people were killed and in excess of 300 others were injured, many of them critically, officials said. It was the biggest railway disaster since Pakistan won independence from Britain in 1947. The previous worst occured in 1972, when 60 people died in a crash near the Punjab town of Liaquatpur.
Survivors estimated in interviews that fatalities were more than 300.
A number of cars at the rear of the freight train were destroyed or damaged.
One passenger, who identified himself only as Hashmad, said his two young nephews were among the dead.
'There was a boom and then I heard the noise of the carriages cracking apart,' he said. 'The carriages leaned to one side. There were cries of people. Finally, I discovered my two nephews had died.'
Police said authorities had identified 124 men, 22 women and 19 children among the dead, whose battered and bloodied bodies were laid on the ground before they were removed to six area hospitals by ambulances and trucks.
Hundreds of injured lay under the open sky or were attended to by medical personnel from across the province at makeshift aid stations prior to transportation to hospitals. Some of the critically hurt were flown to Karachi.
Because of a shortage of space in facilities near the site, some patients were taken as far as Larkhana, the hometown of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, 40 miles to the west, officials said.
Dazed survivors spent the day shuffling through the wreckage looking for personal belongings, or seeking family members.
Among the passengers was an 19-member wedding party. All were killed but the groom, Sadar Ali, who sat on the ground sobbing and unable to speak.
A station porter, who identified himself only as Mushtaq, said he awoke at the sound of the approaching train and was thrown to his feet by the impact of the collision.
'The shattering sound threw me off balance,' he said. 'I saw pieces of steel flying all over and heart-rending cries for help.'
A resident, Kareem Mohammad said: 'At first we thought our village was being bombed from the air. But soon we realized an explosion had taken place and we rushed in that direction.'
On reaching the station, he said he and other villagers 'formed a rescue party' and began extricating passengers they heard 'crying for help.'
The disaster forced a suspension of rail traffic for more than 13 hours.
Troops were rushed in from a base close to the nearby Indo-Pakistan border and military helicopters were used to ferry the injured.
An unknown number of people were trapped in the wreckage of the passenger train, they said.
The disaster occurred about 12:30 a.m. in the railway station of Sangi, about 350 miles north of the port city of Karachi, the capital of the province, the officials said.
The passenger train, the Zakria Bahauddin Express, was heading from Lahore to Karachi when it plowed into the freight train, which was standing still on the tracks, the officials said.
Villagers as far as 5 miles away heard the impact.
Eight cars of the express were severely damaged and thrown from the tracks, officials said.
The officials said more than 200 people were killed and between 600 and 700 others injured, many critically.
The cause of the accident was not immediately known.
Villagers who heard the impact were the first to reach the scene and began trying to rescue those who were trapped inside, the officials said.
The villagers also alerted local authorities, who requested assistance from the provincial government. It arranged for the dispatch of three crane-equipped relief trains from Karachi, Lahore and Hyderabad, the second largest city in the province.
The officials said troops and medical personnel were being rushed to the site to help in rescue and relief operations, and makeshift hospitals had been set up in Sangi.
Most of the dead and injured were taken to the nearby city of Sukkur and some of the more seriously hurt were to be sent to Karachi and Hyderabad, the officials said.
The Edhi Trust, a volunteer social agency, dispatched an ambulance plane from Karachi to Sukkur, carrying blood and medicines for the injured, the officials said.