TN Express fire kills 32
Sabotage not ruled out
At least 32 people perished and 26 suffered burns as fire engulfed a second class sleeper coach of the Chennai-bound Tamil Nadu Express, minutes after the train crossed Nellore station early Monday.
The coach, S-11, was completely gutted. Officials confirmed that 28 bodies were recovered from the coach till 6 pm on Monday and kept in the waiting rooms at Nellore railway station. Over 72 passengers were in the compartment at the time of the inferno.
According to reports, an electric short circuit between 4 am and 4:30 am sparked off the fire. Eyewitnesses and railway officials told Deccan Herald that the victims were choked to death and charred beyond recognition.
Neither Railway Board officials, nor Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, who rushed to the spot, has ruled out possibilities of a sabotage. “Some eyewitness account strengthens suspicion of a blast,” a railway official said.
However, they iterated that the actual cause can be asserted only after a forensic test is conducted. “Nothing is ruled out. Only a forensic test can bring out the actual cause,” Reddy said during a brief interaction with reporters at Nellore railway station. “Everything is burnt, what can we say even prima facie? Only forensic probe will reveal the cause of the fire,” said South Central Railway’s Divisional Railway Manager, Anurag.
The gate-man at the level crossing reportedly heard a blast and reported it to the divisional railway manager. “We cannot say anything now. However, every possibility will be looked into while investigation. Statutory inquiry will be conducted by Commissioner of Railway Safety (South Central Circle), D K Singh,” said railway spokesperson Anil Saxena.
Based on seat numbers, five bodies were identified till 6 pm on Monday, after relatives of the victims were ferried to Nellore in a special train. They are Bhagat Singh from Amritsar, travelling to Chennai from New Delhi, Shalini, a software professional who boarded from Warangal and Raju, Ashwini and Venkatraman from Tamil Nadu. Of the 26 injured, 20 are men and six women, besides a girl.
Eyewitness accounts suggest that the gate-keeper at the Nellore station noticed the flame barely 500 metres from the first railway crossing and informed the station master. As the loco driver applied brakes, passengers rushed out. Fire and rescue personnel were soon pressed into action.
“Around 15 passengers jumped to safety, even as S-11 and four other coaches were detached from the rest of the coaches,” said a railway official from Vijayawada. The survivors were accommodated in other compartments as the train left for Chennai around 8 am. An accident relief van was deployed to move the gutted coach to the Nellore main railway station where forensic experts will inspect it.
Meanwhile, Kiran Kumar Reddy has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 1 lakh to the kin of the deceased while Railway Minister Mukul Roy has announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh. “Relatives of the deceased will get an ex-gratia amount of Rs 5 lakh each and those grievously injured will get a compensation of Rs 1 lakh each. Besides, people with minor injuries will get Rs 25,000 each,” Roy told reporters in Kolkata.
Though an enquiry into the mishap has already been ordered, Roy said nothing concrete on the cause behind the fire can be said right now. “I will not rule out any possibility,” he said.
Late in the evening, Union Minister of State for Railways K H Muniappa also visited the Nellore station and visit the injured in the hospitals. He said the Commissioner For Railway Safety will be holding an independent probe into the fire mishap.