Thirty-two people were today charred to death and 25 others injured when a fire broke out in a coach of New Delhi-Chennai Tamil Nadu Express near here with Railway Minister Mukul Roy indicating that there could have been a blast.
Additional DG Railways V S K Kaumudi said that 32 bodies have been recovered so far from the charred S-11 bogie of the train.
Helpline nos: Nellore (0861- 2576924,2575038); Secunderabad (040-27786723,2345864).
South Central Railway officials in Hyderabad said 25 people have been injured in the mishap and have been admitted to different hospitals.
The Nellore station manager noticed the fire in one of the bogies of the train at 4:15 AM and alerted officials. Two fire tenders were rushed to the spot immediately to put out the fire and they managed to restrict the blaze to the S-11 bogie,they said.
In Kolkata,the Railway Minister said,”Some of the injured passengers admitted to hospitals and a gateman at one of the level crossings near Nellore station heard a loud sound when the fire occurred in the coach”.
Roy said that the Divisional Railway Manager had also said that there was a report of a blast even as the minister maintained that nothing can be “excluded” as to what caused the fire.
Asked if he suspected any act of sabotage,Roy said,”I will not say anything at this stage.” He said that there was a talk about short circuit as also some inflammable substance being carried by a passenger.
“Nothing can be excluded and nothing can be said without an investigation. It will be investigated if inflammable substances were in the compartment or it was caused by a short circuit,” the minister said.
Ishan Shah,who was travelling in the ill-fated coach and had woken up due to the disturbances,said that he had not heard any blast.
Condoling the loss of lives in the fire accident,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the Railway Ministry to render all assistance to the affected.
Earlier,Nellore District Collector B Sridhar said,”There was a short circuit near the toilet and the train was moving at a speed of 110 kms per hour. It was going to Chennai from Delhi. All the passengers were asleep when the fire broke out. People were not able to come out immediately”.
“The fire spread fast and the passengers could not come out through one of the doors because of the fire. So the other edge of the coach was to be used. Some people could come out while others succumbed to death,” he said.
The bodies have been charred so it is difficult to identify them,Sridhar said.
Additional Joint Collector Laxmikant said the toll could rise up to 35 as some of the bodies are still to be recovered from the charred S-11 compartment.
Nellore district police officials said 14 passengers in the bogie were safe.
Some of the passengers travelling in the train told reporters that smoke engulfed the bogie soon after the fire broke out making it difficult for them to come out.
The Railway Minister announced an exgratia payment of Rs five lakh each for the next of the kin of those killed in the mishap and said that one dependent from the family of those killed would be provided a job.
He announced a payment of Rs one lakh each for those who were grievously injured and Rs 25,000 for those who suffered simple injuries.
The Railway Ministry has also ordered an inquiry by D K Singh,Commissioner of Railway Safety of South-Central Circle to look into the cause of the accident.
Expressing shock and anguish over the incident,Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy conveyed his condolences to members of the bereaved families.
A release from the CM’s Office said he would visit Nellore to meet those injured in the mishap.
The Chief Minister has asked the Chief Secretary to monitor the relief operations on a minute-to-minute basis and also coordinate with railway officials of Secunderabad and Delhi,the release said.
The S-11 coach was badly burnt and looked like as if it had come out of a furnace.
Heart-rending scenes were witnessed at the railway station as relatives of some of the deceased passengers,who reached Nellore,wept inconsolably.
The coach was brought to the Nellore railway station and normal traffic was restored by around 8.30 A.M,the South Central Railway officials said.
Passengers recall harrowing experiences
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.