Fifteen killed as train catches fire in Andhra Pradesh (Third Lead)

August 1st, 2008 - 6:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Hyderabad/New Delhi, Aug 1 (IANS) At least 15 people were killed and four injured when a passenger train caught fire in Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh early Friday, officials said. Five coaches of Gowtami Express, going from Secunderabad to Kakinada, were gutted in the fire which broke out around 2 a.m. in a forest near Mahboobabad, about 250 km from state capital Hyderabad.

Officials said 15 people were killed. The toll might go up as rescue workers found some more charred remains in the wreckage.

Confusion prevailed on the number of casualties as the bodies were charred beyond recognition. Only six of those killed could be identified. Forensic experts rushed from Hyderabad to gather charred remains. Officials said the exact toll would be known after forensic experts complete their investigations.

Officials said the fire broke out in the S-10 coach of the train and engulfed the other bogies, spreading panic among passengers, who were fast asleep. Those killed included three handicapped people and a pregnant woman.

Some passengers pulled the chain to stop the train and detached the affected bogies with the help of the train crew, said Andhra Pradesh Animal Husbandry Minister G. Surya Rao, who was among the passengers on the train. He escaped unhurt.

“There was panic after some passengers spotted the fire. Nobody knew what to do,” said the minister, who saw two charred bodies.

The railway authorities said the mishap occurred when the train crossed K. Samudram station on the Warangal-Khammam section of South Central Railway. The cause of the fire is not known but officials said short circuit could have led to the mishap.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad said: “The exact reason of the fire has not been detected yet and the inquiry is going on. But there was no bomb blast.”

South Central Railway general manager H.K. Padhee said chief commissioner of railway safety was reaching the accident site from Lucknow for the inquiry.

Warangal District Superintendent of Police V.C. Sajjanar said the rescue workers had a tough time in reaching the accident site, which was inaccessible by road. He and other officials walked two kilometres to reach the spot.

They could not take up the rescue and relief operations immediately due to darkness in the area. The rescue and relief work began early morning. Sajjanar said the fire broke out in S-10 and spread to 9, 11, 12 and 13. Eleven bodies were found in the S-10 coach, which was completely gutted.

The train with 25 coaches had left Secunderabad railway station at 9.15 p.m. Thursday. After detaching the affected bogies, the train left for Kakinada with the remaining passengers.

Eyewitnesses said they woke up after some passengers alerted them and ran towards the adjoining coach. They said few handicapped persons could not escape and were charred to death.

Majority of the dead were from coastal district of East Godavari. The injured were shifted to M.G.M. Hospital in Warangal town.

Moving scenes were witnessed at the accident site and at M.G.M. Hospital as the anxious relatives were looking for their near and dear ones among the dead and injured. Hundreds of people thronged the Kakinada railway station, waiting for information about the passengers.

A special relief train was sent from Secunderabad with medical staff. Relief teams and medical vans have also reached from Kazipet junction and Vijaywada.

The accident has brought train services to a halt on the Warangal-Khammam section and many long distance trains were either diverted or cancelled.

Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy visited the accident site and expressed shock over the tragedy. He said the tragedy was not caused by terrorists.

“It was an accident,” Reddy said, adding that compensation of Rs.100,000 each would be given to the families of those killed. This is in addition to the compensation announced by the railways.

The railway minister has announced compensation of Rs.500,000 each for the families of those killed and Rs.100,000 for the injured. He said one member of each family that has lost someone in the fire would be given a job with the railways.

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