32 killed as train catches fire

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Ill-fated train: The charred remains of the coaches of Gautami Express at Kesamudram railway station in Warangal district.
Ill-fated train: The charred remains of the coaches of Gautami Express at Kesamudram railway station in Warangal district.
Gollapudi Srinivasa Rao & Suresh Krishnamoorthy

Five coaches of Secunderabad-Kakinada Gautami Express engulfed in blaze

KESAMUDRAM (WARANGAL DT.): Thirty two passengers were killed and five injured, one seriously, when flames engulfed five coaches of the Secunderabad-Kakinada Gautami Express train at 1.10 a.m. on Friday near Kesamudram railway station, about 70 km from Warangal, on Friday.

Starting from a sleeper coach – S10 – the fire, fanned by strong winds, spread to S9, S11, S12 and S13 coaches and gave no chance for the passengers to escape from the burning train at the dead of night. It was allegedly caused by an electric short circuit but South Central Railway (SCR) officials were unwilling to go into the reasons till forensic experts from Hyderabad, who visited the scene of the tragedy, submitted their report.

Passengers in sleep

Minister of State for Railways Narainbhai Rathwa, who arrived here by a helicopter a little while after Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, said around 6 p.m. that the toll was around 20. However, after his departure, railway officials found ten more bodies inside one of the compartments in addition to two women who died on way to hospital. Eyewitnesses said the passengers scrambled to get out of the burning compartments. While many managed to jump to safety as it began slowing down, women and children could not escape and succumbed to the fury of the fire. Most of them were in deep sleep and were unaware of the disaster till the last moment. Four of the five coaches were completely destroyed, while S13 was partially damaged.

Two pregnant women, Saritha (28) and Bhagyalakshmi (39), died of suffocation while being shifted to hospital. Both were travelling to Rajahmundry and Dr. Saritha was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. All the others were burnt alive. The S10 and S9 compartment accounted for a majority of the casualties as their doors got jammed and prevented passengers from escaping.

Heaps of skulls and bones lay at the doorsteps of these bogies, indicating that more people died while trying to get away. Eyewitnesses said the driver halted the train between Kesamudram and Tallapusapalli stations when someone pulled the chain.

Train delinked

Railway and police officials shifted the injured persons to MGM Hospitals in Warangal. They delinked the rest of the train and allowed it to proceed towards Vijayawada while the damaged coaches were hauled to Kesamudram.

Minister for Small Scale Industries G. Surya Rao, who was aboard the train, said it took an ambulance nearly one hour to reach the difficult terrain where the train was stranded. Police asked other passengers not to reveal his identity as the area is a Maoist stronghold, he added.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad announced in New Delhi that a sum of Rs. 5 lakh would be paid as compensation to the kin of each of the deceased and Rs. 1 lakh to the injured in addition to the ex gratia given by SCR. Commissioner of Railway Safety R. P. Agarwal visited the scene of the accident.

Chief Minister Y.S.Rajasekhara Reddy announced an ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh each to the kin of the deceased on behalf of the State Government.

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