MULTAN, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s forensic experts will carry out DNA tests to identify most of the victims of the massive train fire in eastern Punjab province the previous day that killed 74 people and injured dozens, officials said Friday.
The tests are are required to identify as many as 52 charred bodies before they can be handed over to relatives for burial, said Jamil Ahmed, a deputy commissioner from the district of Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab.
The tragedy on Thursday, in which three carriages were consumed by flames after a fire caused by a cooking gas stove erupted on board, prompting dozens to jump in panic off the speeding train, has stunned the nation. It has also raised many questions about poor safety regulations and Pakistan’s dilapidated rail system.
Survivors said afterward it took nearly 20 minutes for the train to stop amid contradictory reports about whether the train’s brakes and the safety cords were working or not.
Poor Pakistanis often bring cooking gas stoves on the trains to prepare their food, though it’s against safety regulations.
Many of the victims were members of Tableeghi Jamaat, an Islamic preaching group, traveling to the eastern city of Lahore for a conference.
The train, which was traveling from the southern port city of Karachi to Rawalpindi, just outside Islamabad, was carrying 857 passengers, including 550 members of the preaching group. The fire apparently started in two compartments where Tableeghi Jamaat members were riding in.
In southern Sindh province, where most of the victims were from, authorities handed over several identified bodies to relatives for burials on Friday in the town of Mirpurkhas and elsewhere. Other relatives were seen lining up to give blood samples for DNA tests outside the hospital in Rahim Yar Khan.
Ahmed said the forensic teams hope to complete the identification process within 48 hours. He added that authorities were investigating the incident, including why it took the train so long to stop.
Train driver Sadiue Ahmed Khan insisted the emergency brakes were not malfunctioning and that the train stopped within three minutes of the first signs of fire.
“This is the worst tragedy in my life as a driver,” he said.
Train accidents in Pakistan are often the result of poor railway infrastructure and official negligence. Media reports on Thursday suggested that railways officials did not notice when passengers boarded the train, carrying individual gas stoves.
Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said measures will be taken not to allow anyone onboard with cooking stoves or gas cylinders in the future.
“We admit our mistake and I assure you, next time it will not happen,” he told reporters amid mounting pressure for his resignation over the huge death toll.