Hyderabad: For the survivor of the fire in coach S-11 of the Tamil Nadu Express this morning, the horror will continue to haunt them for the rest of their lives as the shocking images of themselves in the smoke-filled dark compartment and the screams of panic-stricken fellow passengers keep playing in their minds.
Many of them recall with horror how they stumbled over the unconscious or dead to reach only one functional exit of the compartment while the other side was engulfed by fire and smoke. They were the lucky few who emerged unscathed as the Chennai bound express train came to a screeching halt just a few kilometres after it crossed Nellore station in Andhra Pradesh.
One of them was Sudheer, a young techie from Vijayawada. “I heard a big sound coming from the other side of the coach and when I looked I saw flames and dark smoke coming towards us. I shouted to alert other people and ran for my life. But to my horror the door on one side was not opening. We had to jump out from the door on the other side,” he said.
Sudheer said that more than the fire it was the thick smoke which killed the people. “Within minutes the compartment was full of poisonous smoke and I found it very difficult to breathe. Many people collapsed because of this. If not for this many could have survived.”
Sudhakar Rao, also from Vijayawada, travelling in the same compartment, also woke up on hearing a huge noise and then he saw the smoke. He also tried to alert other passengers, most of whom were asleep as it was around 4.15am. “The train was at full speed. It was not at all clear to me what sparked the fire. But I realised that there was something wrong and I tried to alert others.”
By the time the train came to a halt, there were a lot of passengers at the door and there was panic all around. “I think 15 people came out with me. Two of them unfortunately went back to pick up their luggage and could not make it back. I think they died inside. As you can see from the positions of the dead bodies many of them died in their sleep and some of them were caught in the stampede and collapsed’.
Among the passengers who could reach Chennai was Chitra who said that she was asleep when the fire broke out but luckily managed to escape. “I jumped from the compartment to save myself”.
Kaushik, who is one and a half and from Madurai, survived but his family did not. While his mother Veena was admitted to a Nellore hospital, his father Venkatesh Babu and brother Hrishit were feared dead in the tragedy.
The fire has left grief-stricken families in all those cities from where the people boarded this particular coach. In Warangal elderly couple Gouri Shankar and Geeta Devi were frantically searching for some information about the fate of their son who had left for Chennai to rejoin work after a two-day holiday. “Nobody is able to tell us where my son is and how he is,” said the distraught father.
In Kapra locality of Hyderabad a pall of gloom descended as the death of Shalini, a young techie, was confirmed. She too was on the way to rejoin work in Chennai after attending the engagement of her friend.
In Vijayawada, where 28 passengers boarded the ill-fated coach, there were a large number of family members and friends trying to gather information about their near and dear ones.