Uttar Pradesh resident Alka Prajapati was sleeping in the ill-fated private party train coach when screams of “fire, fire” erupted.
While she instinctively scurried towards safety, she found the train door locked. Thankfully, someone broke open the lock to let the panic-stricken passengers out, possibly averting a bigger tragedy.
“We were sleeping when we heard the cries and tried to escape. The door was locked so we could not escape immediately. Someone broke the lock and we came out. There was thick smoke and I couldn’t breathe properly and just took God’s name,” she told PTI at the hospital where she was receiving medical attention.
Railway employees arrived there 15-20 minutes later, and all efforts to put out the flames were taken. “But it (the coach) was on fire,” she said, still recovering from the shock.
Some survivors who spoke to the media said they were proceeding to Rameswaram.
Vinod Kumar, another passenger, said the sudden screams after the fire erupted woke him up from sleep and “we ran for our life.” In moving scenes at the spot, women were seen wailing, possibly over the loss of a dear one, while a child recalled the tense moments before fleeing to safety.
A local eyewitness, auto-driver Mannan Prakash, said the people in the vicinity rushed to the accident spot soon after hearing a “sound”, but could not get near due to the fire.
“Some got stuck inside. They could not get down (quickly) since it was a sleeper coach,” he said.
The fire broke out at 5.15 am on Saturday and Fire service personnel who arrived at the spot half an hour later put down the blaze by 7.15 am.
“This is a private party coach that was attached at Nagercoil Junction yesterday (Aug 25) by train no. 16730 (Punalur-Madurai Exp). Party coach was detached and kept at Madurai Stabling line. The passengers in the private party coach have….smuggled gas cylinder and this has caused the fire,” Southern Railway said.
The party coach had started the journey from Lucknow on August 17, scheduled to return to Chennai on Sunday and proceed to the UP capital from there on, it added.
“While the coach was stabled/ parked, some members of the party in the private party coach were using the illegally smuggled cooking gas cylinder unauthorisedly for preparing tea/ snacks, which caused the fire in the stabled/parked coach. Most of the passengers could get out of the coach on noticing fire. Some passengers had already got down at platform also before detachment of coach,” it added.
The private party had illegally carried gas cylinder, stove and other inflammable articles “which led to the freak fire accident,” it said.
Among the items found at the spot was an LPG cylinder, bag of potatoes, damaged utensils and wooden logs, giving ample indications of attempts to cook food.
At least nine pilgrims bound for Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu met with a tragic end on Saturday when a fire broke out inside a stationary train compartment at the railway station in Madurai in the early hours of Saturday, the Southern Railway said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by String Reveals staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)