28 die in burning train

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Twenty-eight people were charred and 25 injured when a mystery fire engulfed their S11 compartment of the New Delhi-Chennai Tamil Nadu Express near Nellore early on Monday. Many of the victims were Chennai-based software engineers who had boarded the train at its two halts in AP — Vijayawada and Warangal.

Sources said most of the victims were sleeping and lost consciousness as thick smoke filled the compartment, which was shuttered due to rains outside. The fire spread rapidly, claiming its victims so quickly that no one had time to react. Most of the survivors were those whose seats were near the exits. There were more than 72 passengers in the compartment, the only one to be affected.

Gateman noticed fire, heard loud sound, alerted station master
While an initial probe indicated that the fire in coach S11 of the New Delhi-Chennai Tamil Nadu Express might have started due to a short circuit, officials are not ruling out sabotage. In Kolkata, Union railway minister Mukul Roy suggested as much, saying, “A gateman at one of the level crossings near Nellore station heard a loud sound when the fire occurred in the coach.”

The fire was noticed a few minutes after the train crossed Nellore station at about 4.20 am. A gateman at the Vijayamahal Gate near Nellore noticed that the fire and alerted the Nellore station master who signalled the train to a halt. Slum-dwellers of the nearby Rammoorthynagar were the first to reach the spot and help take the injured to hospitals in autorickshaws even before the ambulances arrived. Fire-fighting units reached the spot in half-an-hour, by which time many passengers had succumbed to smoke and the flames.

D. Rama Sudhakar, branch manager of United India Insurance in Visakhapatnam, who was in Berth No. 7, said that he and some passengers pulled the chain soon after noticing the smoke and fire. Officials hailed him a hero and credited Mr Sudhakar with saving as many 20 passengers. A high-level statutory inquiry into the incident was ordered by South Central Railways. It will be conducted by commissioner for railway safety D.K. Singh. Top brass of the state police and crime scene experts from AP For-ensic Science Laboratory rushed to Nellore to ascertain the cause of the fire while APFSL DNA experts began the process of collecting samples of unidentified charred bodies.

Experts will identify the bodies with skull superimposition and DNA fingerprints as it is important for Railway compensation claims and for relatives to perform last rites of the victims. APFSL director O.N. Murthy said, “Our experts will find out whether it was an explosion, short circuit or due to any inflammable material present in the bogie. DNA experts will collect samples for fingerprinting.”

The Railways have announced an enhanced ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh for the kin of the deceased passengers, Rs 1 lakh to those grievously injured and Rs 25,000 to passengers with minor injuries. Railway minister Mukul Roy rushed to the spot to take stock of the situation.

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