31st July, 2012
HYDERABAD: At least 32 people were killed Monday when a fire ripped through a coach on an express train as it carried sleeping passengers to the southern Indian city of Chennai, officials said.
The accident, on a long-distance service from New Delhi, occurred in the early hours of the morning near the town of Nellore in Andhra Pradesh state with an electrical short-circuit seen as the most likely cause.
“Thirty-two (bodies) have been pulled out from the coach,” Madhusudan Sarma, a senior administrative officer in Nellore district, told AFP, adding that there were still more corpses inside.
Another 26 people have been admitted to hospital, he added.
One carriage was completely gutted, and rescuers were struggling with the fierce temperatures inside the mostly metal structure. Cutting torches were being used to open wider access points for the emergency services.
Images showed dozens of rescuers, survivors and crowds of onlookers milling around as the blackened and twisted bodies of victims were lifted out of the wrecked carriage and laid in rows alongside the railway line.
Family members of the victims wailed and screamed, while other dazed survivors sat around quietly with their belongings.
“I woke up when people were rushing into our compartment, I was in S-10 which was attached to the S-11 coach that caught fire,” passenger Shantanu, who gave only one name, told the NDTV news channel.
“There was smoke all around. We tried to open the emergency window, people jumped out of it.”
Nellore chief district official B. Sreedhar said preliminary investigations suggested a short circuit near a toilet had triggered the blaze.
“We expect the death toll in the affected coach to be around 30 to 35 people,” Sreedhar told NDTV. “The fire spread fast and blocked the door at one end of the coach, so there was only one exit available.”
The non-stop train was travelling at 110 kilometers per hour (70 miles per hour) when it passed through Nellore station, where staff noticed the fire and informed the railway authorities.
India’s accident-prone rail network is still the main form of long-distance travel in the huge country, despite fierce competition from private airlines.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent his condolences to the victims and has asked the national railways ministry to coordinate the relief effort, his office said.