PAKISTAN: Prayer Time

It was 5:40, the time for morning prayers,as the crack Pakistan Mail raced westward across the Sind desert oneday last week. In the wooden cars at the front of the train, crowdedbeyond normal capacity, shivering Moslem passengers balancedprecariously on narrow wooden seats to bend their knees in thedirection of Mecca. In cars reserved for them, veiled womenfolk nursedbabies and tied up bedrolls in anticipation of arrival at Karachi in anhour’s time. Pakistan’s bearded Foreign Minister Sir Mohammed ZafrullahKhan made his devotions in the quiet of an air-conditioned carriage.

There was little time for formal prayer, however, in the cab of theMail’s locomotive as it rounded a bend 75 miles from Karachi at 60m.p.h. Sprawled athwart the rails dead ahead were two tank cars, filledwith gasoline, from a freight which had run off the track ten minutesearlier. Before the Mail’s engineer could even slam on his brakes, thelocomotive was plowing through the tank cars. An explosion rent theair, and the first two cars burst into flame like struck matches. Athick column of smoke boiled into the air as the fire spread along thewooden ties setting car after car aflame. Before the flames reached hiscar, Foreign Minister Zafrullah Khan was hauled to safety, but otherswere not so lucky. Despite an official claim of only 150 dead, somesurvivors estimated that nearly 300 had lost their lives in the wreck.One railroad worker bound for his brother’s wedding raced forward tothe women’s flaming car to check on his wife and five children justafter the crash. They were all dead. “There was not a wail of anguish,”he said later, “not a cry for help. They were all killed in a second.And for three months my wife had been preparing for the wedding.”

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