28 die in TN Express fire, 25 injured

FP

At least 28 passengers were charred to death in the early hours of Monday after a fire broke out in the S-11 coach of the Chennai-bound Tamil Nadu Express at Nellore in Andhra Pradesh. Twenty-five have been admitted to three hospitals in Nellore, with the condition of two reported to be serious.

The fire gutted the coach and burned most of the bodies beyond recognition. There were 72 passengers inside the coach.

According to railway officials, the fire broke out at around 4.20 am, minutes after the train coming from Delhi had left Nellore station. A passenger who noticed the fire pulled the emergency chain that brought the train to a halt. The fire was also noticed by some officials at the station, who signalled the driver to stop.

But by then, the fire had spread, and smoke engulfed the compartment, choking passengers and reducing visibility, which added to the chaos.

To make matters worse, the passengers had pulled down the shutters due to a slight drizzle a little while before the fire, and the RPF personnel on board had locked the doors to prevent those without tickets from entering the coach.

As a result, when the fire damaged the electric lines, the passengers had no light to find their way to the exit.

While South Central Railway officials said a short circuit may have caused the fire, Railway Minister Mukul Roy said he wasn't ruling out a blast. "I got a call from the divisional railway manager that there was report of a blast. I don't want to dwell on it further since you will infer that I am trying to divert the cause of the mishap to another direction," Roy told reporters in Kolkata before leaving for the accident site.

He also told PTI that "some of the injured passengers and a gateman at one of the level crossings near Nellore station heard a loud sound" before the fire started. Asked about possible sabotage, Roy said: "Nothing is being ruled out and nothing can be said without an investigation."

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