Chennai(PTI): S-11 bogie of New Delhi-Chennai Tamil Nadu Express turned into a burning inferno on wheels today, as screaming passengers jolted from their sleep ran for the only clear exit door in dark–some stepping on dead bodies –before the train came to a screeching halt.
With just around three hours left for the train running at 110 km per hour through this town in Andhra Pradesh to reach its final destination, at least 32 passengers were not lucky with the ghastly fire that swept through the sleeper coach snuffing out their lives in a few seconds.
The bodies of the victims were charred beyond recognition and the intensity of the blaze could be gauged from TV footage which showed huge balls of flame leaping out of the bogie–which has reserved accomodation for 72 passengers. Chitra, a passenger from Delhi who was in S-11, said she heard lound screams for help and that she jumped out even before the train could come to a complete halt.
“It was smoke all around and I jumped out of the train,” she said, recounting the early morning horror, as all hell broke loose. Several passengers were asleep when the fire was noticed at 4.15 am by Nellore Station manager.
A passenger identified as Ishan Shah said he did not hear any blast in the ill-fated bogie. “I did not hear any sound,” said Shah, who was in the adjacent S-11 coach. Shah said he heard shouts of anguished passengers for pulling the chain to bring the train to a halt.
Railway Minister Mukul Roy said some injured passengers and a gateman had heard a sound when the S-11 coach caught fire, but refused to say at this stage whether he suspected sabotage.
Nellore District Collector B Sridhar said, “There was a short circuit near the toilet and the train was moving at a speed of 110 km per hour.” The hapless passengers had to rush to the other end of the bogie to exit since the fire had engulfed one end of the coach.
Sahaj Ahmed, a native of Jammu and Kashmir, who had boarded the train at Bhopal, said he ran for safety as soon as he realised that it was a life and death matter. “It was smoke and panic all around and I ran for my life to the exit door in pitch dark,” he said and feared that he may have stepped on some dead bodies.
As rescue workers struggled with the fierce temperatures inside the ravaged bogie, blackened and twisted bodies of victims were lifted out of the gutted carriage and laid in rows alongside the railway line.
Family members of the victims wailed and screamed, while other dazed survivors sat around numbed with their belongings. “I woke up when people were rushing into our compartment, I was in S-10 which was next to the S-11 coach that caught fire,” said another passenger Shantanu.
The more fortunate passengers from adjacent compartments had a different story to narrate. With rains lashing at various places during their near three-day journey, they had shut most of the windows and doors.
“Therefore we could not hear the screams of those from S11 coach and it dawned on us quite late that a mishap had occurred, resulting in some delay in reaching out to them,” Devanathan, travelling with his family in a nearby coach, said.
Railway pesonnel were making preliminary identification based on the reservations records for the affected bogie.