Water, footwear and food given to passengers

At around 12.30 p.m., 53-year-old Desammal Arumugam, clad in a dhoti and shirt, sat under a tree in Sitheri, and calmly smoked a cigarette.

The last few hours had been nerve-wracking, and the former Panchayat president of Sitheri village was exhausted.

As soon as local villagers heard about the derailment of the Muzaffarpur-Yesvantpur Express early on Wednesday morning, they had rushed to the rescue, Arumugam said.

“The villagers told me that a train had derailed. I immediately bought 10 bags of water packets and ran to the spot,” he said.

As soon as they reached, the villagers began breaking opening the window panes of the air-conditioned compartments and pulling petrified passengers outside. “They were terrified. I could not understand what they were saying as they all spoke in Hindi. But I gave them water and they gulped it down,” he said.

While Arumugam was busy distributing water packets, other villagers gave dazed passengers who had lost most of their possessions in the wreck, their own footwear. Not one of the villagers spoke Hindi, but communication was not a problem, they said.

“The site of the accident is full of thorny bushes. I saw one exhausted woman passenger limping through the thorns. I gave her my chappals and then proceeded to carry the bags of the injured passengers,” said another local, 64-year old M. Jayaraman.

Just as the villagers were about to provide the passengers with some food, the ambulances and police arrived. “We helped the passengers into the ambulances and cars before proceeding to check for other injured passengers,” said Arumugam.

Apart from villagers, staff of Ultratech cements, which has a factory close to the tracks, also rushed to the spot to help in the rescue. They provided the passengers with first aid and also provided one ambulance and some cars to help transport the injured to hospital.

“I informed INS Rajali first, and then went to the accident spot,” said M.G. Dhananjayan, a security officer of the company and a former Naval officer.

He said the staff members had been able to rescue several passengers and were thankful they had been at hand. “Many schools in the locality also provided their buses to help transport those injured. Senior officials of our company also came to the spot and offered help,” he added.

Near the site of the horrific accident, at a government-run anganwadi, children continued to play, unaware. Their caretakers though, did their bit. “All we could do was carry the bags of the injured to safety. We also made them sit and provided them with water,” said 30-year- old Prema, who was feeding the children.