As an express train traversed Pakistan’s farmland and crashed into the wagons of another service that had derailed minutes earlier, a family of nearby villagers were found awake.
“The explosion of the collision was so strong that we woke up in a panic,” said Ali Nawaz, who described the start of a frantic offer to help passengers from the remnants of the double disaster.
“When we left the house, we saw the train stop, when we approached the place, we heard them asking for help.”
At least 63 people died in Monday’s crash, according to officials, with dozens more injured.
With erratic mobile phone reception and a poor road network, it would be hours before emergency services arrived on the scene, about 25 km (15 miles) from the nearest town of Dharki, in the southern Ghotki district. of the province of Sind.
The Nawaz family, made up of a dozen people, lives just 500 meters from the tracks.
The men rushed to identify the most seriously injured passengers to take them to the hospital by car, while those who appeared more stable were loaded onto tractor trailers.
The first passenger, a mother Nawaz’s cousin drove to the hospital, died in the back seat.
Back at the farmhouse, the women ran to fill water containers for the wounded during the stifling summer night.
“They made a chain: the women would carry water to the midpoint from where the men would take them to the passengers,” Nawaz, 63, told AFP news as cows and calves roamed the yard of his flat. brick house.
Hundreds of disoriented passengers got off the trains, slowly grasping the magnitude of the crash, which destroyed six wagons.
They joined the villagers in search of survivors, climbing the crumpled wagons to reach those trapped inside.
The benches of the train seats were turned into beds to carry people and bodies lined up on the floor and respectfully covered with handkerchiefs.
“I continued to work day and night (cooking meals, bread and tea) and my husband and other men in the family continued to supply them to the victims and rescue workers,” said Habiba Mai, Nawaz’s wife.
When dawn broke, an injured passenger and his three children staggered toward the house.
“I milked my cow to feed her little daughter,” said Mai, 40.
“The woman’s face was stained with dust, so I washed her with water. He didn’t have slippers on his feet, so I gave him mine. “
On Tuesday outside his home, army personnel rested on the traditional steep banks under the neem trees.
An officer, who did not want to be named, retired to reward the family with 50,000 rupees ($ 320) for aiding the rescue effort.
“He’s a hero,” said Muneer Ahmed, Mai’s brother-in-law.
He never stood by his daughter, giving tea to visitors who still gathered outside the house in the evening, with the walls blackened by smoke.
“My fingers have almost burned sitting on the stove day and night,” he said, smiling. “We did the best we could.”