120 passengers packed in one 'chaalu dabba'
‘Chaalu Dabba’ is what the railway staff usually call the general compartment.
On Tuesday morning, this compartment just behind the engine, was packed to three times its seating capacity of around 40 seats.
Most of its passengers were construction workers who had boarded the train at Hospet, Bellary and Koppal.
Hampi Express, which left Hubli at 6 pm on Monday, was to reach Bangalore at 6 am. It originates in Karnataka and passes through parts of Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh before re-entering Karnataka.
The train had 19 bogies, of which nine were reserved compartments, three AC coaches, two breaking coaches and three general compartments.
Sharanappa K, who was sleeping in the sleeper coach, heard a sound in the wee hours of Tuesday. By the time he got up and came out of the train, there was a massive fire in one part of the engine and the general compartment behind it. He said for the next half an hour, all he could hear was screams and cries of women and children in the first three coaches of the train that had derailed.
Prakash K, a 12-year-old survivor, said he and his mother were sitting in the coach when his father went towards the door. Soon, the accident occurred and his father was crushed to death, he said.
Officials of the South Western Railways said the casualties were high as passengers were asleep when the collision took place. Chief Ticket Inspector N Thippeswamy was in coach No 4 starting from the engine. Thippeswamy said that around 3.20 am, he sent a message regarding the tragedy to the commercial control office and with the help of fellow passengers and other ticket inspectors, he started the rescue operations.
The scene at Penukonda Government Hospital where the bodies of the victims, some charred beyond recognition, were kept was heart-wrenching. Some bodies were so badly burnt that the relatives themselves could not identify their kin.
Ten-year-old Sameer was asked to take a look at the charred bodies as his entire family was missing. He identified his father Farooq, but could not identify the rest.