17 of 32 bodies identified; forensic officials collect samples

A day after 32 people lost their lives in a fire on the Chennai-bound Tamil Nadu Express, the railway authorities began a preliminary inquiry into the tragedy.

A full-fledged inquiry will begin when Commissioner of Railway Safety D.K. Singh arrives here on August 2. A seven-member team from the Andhra Pradesh Forensic Science Laboratory (APFSL) on Tuesday visited the Nellore station and collected samples from the charred S11 coach parked on Platform 4.

Led by Venkateswara Rao, the team collected burnt metal dust and residues to find out whether any inflammable material or explosives triggered the fire.

With great difficulty, the authorities identified 17 of the 32 deceased. Relatives of victims Elizabeth (46) and Nagarani (45) staked claim for the only female body. The authorities tried in vain to help them. Finally, they decided to send the body to New Delhi for DNA testing.

Railway Board Chairman Vinay Mittal, South Central Railway General Manager G.N. Asthana and Divisional Railway Manager Anurag inspected the coach for the second time on Tuesday. Top railway officials remained tight-lipped about the cause of the incident. But lower-level officials contended that it was short-circuit that caused the accident.

Thirteen bodies were handed over to relatives after identification and completion of post-mortem.

Confusion prevailed in identification, as bodies were charred beyond recognition.

Fifteen bodies were shifted to the mortuary at the DSR District Headquarters Hospital in Nellore, where relatives arrived from New Delhi, Chennai and Vijayawada. “Identification will be allowed for two days. Later, the bodies will be sent to Hyderabad for DNA testing,” said Masila Mani, District Medical and Health Officer.

The decision to move the unidentified and badly mutilated bodies to the Railway Hospital at Perambur, near Chennai, was withdrawn to avoid any inconvenience in the investigation process.