32 Die As Tamil Nadu Express Catches Fire
Hyderabad/Chennai: In one of India’s most horrific train tragedies, 32 people were killed when a second class coach of the Chennai-bound Tamil Nadu Express caught fire early Monday in Andhra Pradesh.
A mobile camera footage showed leaping flames engulfing the S-11 coach even as the train continued to run, triggering panic among the passengers, with many desperately trying to escape.
Some among the 70-80 in the coach succeeded by jumping from one of the doors. Those trapped at the other end of the coach where the doors did not open perished in the most gruesome manner.
A Railway Board official in New Delhi late in the evening put the number of dead at 32 and the injured at 25, revising earlier statistics that said 35 people were killed.
The tragedy took place near Nellore, about 450 km from Hyderabad. “I was lucky to escape but many could not as two doors got jammed and the smoke spread very fast,” said Sudhir, a shaken survivor.
Passengers, who had no reservation and were sitting or standing near the doors were lucky while others sleeping on berths, especially the upper and middle ones, had no time even to rush towards the doors.
Rescue workers found bodies lying on berths. A body was seen in a sitting posture, indicating the man could not even attempt an escape. Pieces of human flesh were seen among the mangled remains of the coach.
Passenger D. Ram Sudhakar credited his narrow escape to god. “It was due to god’s grace I am alive,” the manager at the United India Insurance Co’s Vishakapatnam branch said.
Sudhakar boarded the train at Vijayawada at 1 a.m. Monday, some six hours before it was to reach its destination Chennai. He quickly went to sleep in berth 7 of S-11 coach.
After 4 a.m, he heard fellow passengers shouting and screaming. He woke up with a start. “I saw a blazing fire at the other end of the bogie.”
Sudhakar quickly roused other sleeping passengers, pulled the alarm chain to stop the train – whose driver was unaware of the fire – and tried to open the doors near seat number one. “The two doors on the other side were inaccessible due to the blaze. Initially people were not able to open even one door. I jumped over a man standing near the door and opened it,” Sudhakar said.
He then started pushing out people. But it was too late for some who suffocated to death. Sudhakar saved two elderly people who had come with a young girl.
“They did not want to leave as the girl was not to be found. I forced them to get off the coach.”
It was a railway employee near the Nellore railway station who alerted the authorities about the burning train.
Police, fire brigade and railway staff quickly rushed to the site and controlled the fire after detaching the affected coach.
Initially, there was confusion about the number of dead as some bodies were charred beyond recognition and some reduced to ashes.
Only five bodies could be identified till Monday evening as rescuers had a tough time gathering the charred remains.
B. Rami Reddy, the additional district magistrate at Nellore, told IANS over the phone that more than 35 people had died.
Congress MP Chinta Mohan said after the visiting the site that over 40 had died.
There were conflicting versions over what could caused the fire.
Some witnesses blamed short circuit. Others suspected sabotage. A few claimed they heard an explosion.
Railway Minister Mukul Roy refused to enter the debate, saying an enquiry had been ordered. “This should have never happened,” he said in Chennai.
The railways announced Rs.5 lakh compensation each to the families of the dead and Rs.1 lakh for the critically injured.
The train had left New Delhi 10.30 p.m. Saturday and was to reach Chennai at 7.15 a.m. Monday. The train covers 2,181 km.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy and DMK president M. Karunanidhi mourned the loss of lives.
Jayalalithaa announced Rs.1 lakh to the families of the dead passengers and Rs.25,000 to the injured.
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