“We saw death whisk past us,” was the common refrain among the survivors of the ill- fated Indore Patna Express, with the scenario inside the bogies reflecting the horror they experienced. The interiors of the less-affected coaches also bore hallmarks of the tragedy, with bed sheets, blankets, pillows, half-eaten food, suitcases and bags lying scattered after passengers rushed out in panic when they were jolted out of sleep as the disaster struck just a little after 0300 hrs.
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Outside, a 17-year-old girl was seen desperately trying to locate her brother, both of whom were returning to Patna after a swimming competition in Bhopal, accompanied by their mother. In the midst of the devastation, there were stories of individual heroics too, with one rescue worker narrating how he managed to pull out five persons alive, one of them oblivious that her limb had got severed.
“I pulled out one old day, who was yet to realise that she had lost one of her legs. One person had blood oozing out of his mouth. And the coach had bodies and blood splattered all across it,” Shakti Singh, a rapid reaction force member, said.
The survivors thanked the locals who were the first to reach the accident spot in pitch dark to find people in daze, still reeling under the sheer impact of the tragedy. Rescue workers had no time to spare as they said that the mangled coaches contained a large number of bodies.
“Those alive have been already rescued. All that is left are bodies. We have just managed to clear half of the worst- affected coaches,” a volunteer said, pointing towards a bogie which looked like a metallic coil after the accident.
The army joined the rescue operations, deploying 90 personnel besides a 50-member medical team which included five doctors. Kanpur Station Commander of the army Brig. B M Sharma said: “We have plans to work through the night. We have put up lights. Our teams are already here. Though the railway cranes are working, we have got our armoured recovery vehicle here to speed up the operation.”
He said that the army is in touch with the civil administration and all other agencies, including the NDRF. “All are functioning together,” he said.
Over 115 passengers were killed and more than 200 injured, nearly half of them grievously, in the worst train accident in recent years when 14 coaches of the Indore-Patna Express derailed here in Kanpur rural area.
Brig Anurag Chibber said the force personnel were using metal cutters to open up the mangled bogies of the train.
Over 600 kms away, scenes of tragedy also played out at Patna railway station, with relatives of the passengers making frantic attempts to contact their near and dear ones and pleading officials for information.
“I have been calling my father, who was returning from Ujjain, since morning. Calls are going through, but he is not picking up,” said Ranjan.
In another corner of the station, the brother of one of the passengers, Ranjan Kumar Singh, begged officials to share some information. “We have not seen a tragedy of this scale ever in our lives. We are still trying to trace five members of our family,” Deepika Tripathi, a passenger, told reporters.
Another passenger said: “We had minor injuries, there was no chance of coming out of the mangled bogie. We somehow managed to escape through the toilet door. All members of my family are safe.”