Obal Bhatia, one of the approximately 900 injured in the train tragedy in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, recounts to Reuters the dramatic scenes that unfolded when three trains – two passenger and one freight – collided, killing at least 288 passengers.

Along with three of his friends, he was going to a factory in Chennai for work. The 25-year-old was in the third carriage of the Coromandel Express, which was suffocatingly full, and patiently held on to the handles for most of the four-hour journey, as did his friends. The train is mostly used by industrial workers around Chennai and Bengaluru (Bangalore).

It was dusk, some of the seated passengers were finishing their dinner and others had fallen asleep. In the same carriage as Bhatia was traveling 30-year-old Moti Sheikh, who was talking to six other villagers. As there was no empty seat, they intended to eat something standing up, before lying down on the floor to rest.

“Suddenly the wagon jolted,” said Bhatia and Sheikh. The first thing that crossed their mind was that it was a sudden braking. But seconds later, the wagon overturned. They believed that their end had come…

“When we realized we were alive, we tried to get to the emergency exit to get off the train. The wagon had derailed and fallen on its side,” Bhatia said. When he managed to get out with his friends, he witnessed scenes of chaos. “We saw many dead. Everyone was trying to break free and looking for their loved ones,” he said.

“We were crying when we got out,” Moti Sheikh said, adding that the first rescuers arrived about 20 minutes later.

The train tragedy is attributed to a malfunction of the signaling system. There is confusion over the exact sequence of events, but Indian media citing railway officials say the Coromandel Express derailed, struck a stationary freight train and then collided with an oncoming passenger train.

Archana Paul was on the other train, the Howrah Superfast Express. “There was a huge bang and everything went dark,” said this housewife from West Bengal, who was traveling with her brother and 10-year-old son. “I started looking for my child and my brother, but I couldn’t see them anywhere.”

Injured passengers were trying to get to their feet. “They urged me to come out, but I refused. I had to look for my son. But they insisted I come out first,” he recounted.

He got out of the wagon, but the child was nowhere to be seen. She was bleeding and they put her in an ambulance. From her hospital bed where she was admitted, she was sobbing as she pleaded with a Reuters reporter to help her find her son.

55-year-old Kaushinda Das, who lost her daughter, was on the same train. “Although I survived, I no longer have a reason to live. My daughter was everything to me,” he said.