Among the survivors were Ashraf Ali, 38, and his brother. “It was a shock when the train started derailing; we heard a loud bang. I heard cries and screaming,” Ali said.
Ali and his brother suffered injuries and managed to escape, but many passengers were still believed to be trapped. Rescue teams rushed to the scene, and the military sent troops to help with the recovery and relief efforts, the armed forces’ media wing said in a statement.
“This is the worst train collision since 2005,” said Asad, the railways spokesman. Deadly train accidents are common in Pakistan, where the extensive rail system has suffered from government neglect for years.
The Ministry of Railways has ordered an inquiry into the accident, demanding that a report be completed within 24 hours, according to a tweet.
At least 40 people died and more than 100 were injured in the crash, the deputy commissioner of the district where the crash occurred, Usman Abdullah, told The Washington Post. Abdullah said 12 passengers were seriously injured.
Between 15 and 20 people remained trapped in the wreckage, as authorities sought heavy machinery to aid in the rescue, Ghotki police chief Umar Tufail told the Associated Press.
Images posted to social media after the crash appeared to show one train — the Millat Express — on its side as people tended to injured passengers lying in furrows of dirt.
“It was like a mess. There were shocking howls and cries,” said Riaz Ahmad, 43, a passenger who suffered minor injuries.
“It was early morning but still dark, and nothing was visible,” he said. “People from the surrounding areas arrived and began helping the victims.”
Officials identified the other train as the Sir Syed Express.
The Millat Express was headed from Karachi to the city of Sargodha when it derailed, fell across the track and was struck by the Sir Syed Express, which was traveling in the opposite direction, a spokesman for Pakistan Railways told the Dawn newspaper.
The incident caused the derailment of more than a dozen train cars and left six to eight “completely destroyed,” Abdullah told Pakistani television station Geo News, according to Dawn.
Munir Ahmed, 29, was one of the local residents who rushed to the scene after he heard the crash. “I was just up for morning prayers but ran to the spot to see what has happened. When I got there, I was shocked,” Ahmed said.
The scene was “horrible,” he said, describing train cars reduced to twisted metal and dozens of wounded screaming in pain, many covered in blood.
“Everyone was crying, ‘Help me! Help me!’” he said. “My heart sank.”
Ahmed said passengers were frantically trying to rescue family members from train cars. “I helped a couple of them, but for a moment I think I lost my senses. I have seen some road accidents before but never saw so many dead and injured,” he added.
In a tweet, Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked by the horrific train accident” and was ordering a “comprehensive investigation.”
The country’s worst rail disaster occurred in 1990, when a packed passenger train plowed into a stationary freight train, killing 210 people.
Hussain reported from Islamabad. Michael Miller contributed to this report.