Seven die as train catches fire in Jharkhand

November 22nd, 2011 - 9:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Bodh Gaya Ranchi, Nov 22 (IANS) Seventy-two passengers were asleep early Tuesday in an air-conditioned coach of the Howrah-Dehradun Express when leaping flames suddenly engulfed it. The tragedy in Jharkhand left seven dead, including two children and an Australian, and again exposed a non-existent disaster management system.

The fire erupted in the B1 three-tier air-conditioned compartment of the Howrah-Dehradun Express around 2.30 a.m., and in no time swept through the packed coach causing panic, survivors said.

While most terrorized occupants managed to escape, seven people were burnt to death while a dozen others suffered varying degrees of burns.

To add to the pre-dawn misery, the fire also spread to the adjoining B2 coach. Distraught passengers later said that more would have perished if a passenger had not pulled the emergency alarm to halt the train in a remote part of Giridih district.

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear. While there were hints about a cooking gas cylinder causing the fire, passengers complained that the B1 coach had got over-heated because the air-conditioning system had been switched off.

By late evening Tuesday, only four victims had been identified: Archita Thakur, 4, Mehjabi Ali Akhtar, 5, Anumita Singh, 26, and Australian woman M.S. Rose.

Rose was one of four female researchers from Australia travelling to the Buddhist holy city of Bodh Gaya.

Three bodies were burnt beyond easy recognition, officials said.

D. Parwa Lakra, the deputy commissioner of Giridih, told IANS over telephone that the tragedy took place between Nimiyaghat and Parasnath railway stations, about 240 km from Ranchi.

“Three Australian women have been admitted to hospital,” said Railway Superintendent of Police P.K. Srivastav.

The first to reach the disaster site were villagers, who said they failed to do much to help the trapped victims because the coach was thick with smoke.

“Three or four of us tried to enter the burning coaches but could not due to the dense smoke,” said Ramesh, a villager.

Passengers from B1 and B2 coaches who survived the ordeal complained that no official assistance came their way for as long as three hours during which period many lay along the tracks, nursing their wounds.

Some survivors were too numbed to react. Others wept openly.

The first railway team reached the site three hours later, until when the coaches kept burning, the surviving passengers said.

One man said that repeated requests to the train crew to detach the B2 coach before it got burnt fell on deaf ears. “These are national property but they did not bother,” he said.

The burnt coaches were eventually detached and taken to Gomoh.

“We somehow managed to came out of the train. We lost all our money and belongings,” local television channels quoted one of the Australian women as saying.

Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi announced a compensation of Rs.5 lakh for the kin of each of the dead and Rs.25,000 each for the passengers of the neighbouring coaches “for the inconvenience they might have suffered”.

The tragedy crippled train services on the busy route. Some services were diverted.

There has been a sharp rise in train accidents in recent months. Indian Railways operate about 9,000 passenger trains, which carry some 18 million people every day.

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