And those on top will hold their breath — in the days to come. An account of the Gemini accident
When Prasad (48), the bus driver, and Hemakumar, the conductor, took the 17 M bus out of Vadapalani bus stand, little did they know that in the next few hours they would be involved in an accident that would bring the city to a standstill for a many hours.
The bus made several trips before starting yet again from Broadway around noon. According to V. Anbazhagan, who boarded the bus from Broadway, there were around 50 passengers in the bus, which usually takes an hour to reach Vadapalani.
The vehicle reached Gemini Flyover around 1.30 p.m. “All we heard was a big sound and smoke going up,” said Vanarani, a teacher at a Government-run balwadi, some 10 feet away from the flyover. “The children had finished their lunch and were sleeping. Hearing the noise, they woke up with a jolt,” she said.
Passengers in the bus were screaming for help. Passers-by tried to rescue the commuters. Tameem Ansari, who was chatting with his friend at a nearby tea stall at the time of the accident, said: “We heard the noise and rushed to the spot. It was like a huge explosion,” said Mr. Ansari.
Help arrives in time
Among government departments, the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services Department was the first to reach the spot. “Once we got the call, a team of six members rushed to the spot. I broke the rear window screen of the bus and rescued three passengers, including a child and an elderly woman, who was stuck beneath the seat,” said S. Karthik, a fire fighting personnel, who was also injured during the rescue mission.
What hampered the rescue mission was the mob which gathered around the accident site. “Some of them were telling us what to do and they were blocking free movement of light and air,” said Mr. Karthik. As onlookers started gathering on the flyover and near the accident site, free movement of traffic was affected.
“The traffic diversion was not effective. The police should have put up barricades on Whites Road and at Teynampet and diverted the vehicles. This way there would have not been any congestion on Anna Salai,” said S. Rajkumar who was stuck in the traffic. Health Minister V.S. Vijay was also stuck in the traffic.
From around 2.15 pm, recovery vans from the MTC were brought to the site to tow the bus. “The van is really old and it cannot drag a bus,” said an MTC staff member. After many futile attempts, a crane was brought to the spot and the bus was taken away at around 3.15 p.m.
Shopkeepers in the vicinity were roped in for rescue operations initially. M.J. Antony of N.K. Timbre Depot, said, “It was around 2 p.m. that we heard a noise. Within minutes, we heard that a bus had fallen off the flyover,” he said. “Soon, policemen came asking for help and we rushed to the spot,” he said.
After it was over
Even three hours after the accident, an eye-witness who helped rescue the passengers had not left the scene. The spot had been cleared, the stretch was opened to traffic, and most of the locals who had come to see the spot had dispersed. “I saw the bus come down inch by inch,” said an eyewitness.
An MTC bus driver himself, he was riding his two-wheeler, and happened to pass by that stretch at the time of the incident. “I was going towards Teynampet from Parry’s Corner. The bus was quite crowded and several locals rushed to rescue those who were stuck inside. The bus was completely damaged and the glass was shattered,” he said, adding that two women were badly stuck under a bus seat and it was a sub-inspector who broke the glass and the grille and brought them out.
Uday Kumar was going to his office near Sathyam Cinemas from T. Nagar when he noticed the commotion on the flyover. “I saw the bus had fallen down and some people were jumping out,” he said.
For the huge crowds that gathered around and over Gemini flyover, many of whom were school children who had come with their parents, a glimpse of the toppled bus is all they wanted. Parents of many children who take their children back home by bus, however, abstained from doing so on Tuesday afternoon.
Maragatham M. who took a detour to see the site of the incident with her daughter in tow, said: “I live in Teynampet and usually take a bus home from my daughter’s school, but today I was scared to do that. I decided to walk back home. I never thought such a big bus could turn over like that. We travel by this route everyday, and it is scary.”
Like Maragatham, Vingesh C. and his friends, decided to walk to their houses in Teynampet from their school on Nungambakkam High Road as there were no share autos available. “When parents came to pick up the primary school students, they told us about the accident near Gemini. Since there were no share autos, we thought it would be safest to walk,” said Vignesh.