Less than 24 hours after the horrifying tragedy that beset the Howarh-Chennai ‘Coromandel Express’ last night near Jajpur K Road, 100 km from Bhubhaneshwar in Orissa, not far away at her Calcutta home, the fear of a loud bang and tumble haunts Ms Samitha Paul.
After an emotive shriek, when this HT correspondent managed to reach her on her cell-phone, Samitha tempered it with a big sigh of relief. “What can I say; I can only thank God who saved my son’s life who was on that train,” Samitha exasperated in a grief-tinged response in Bengali and Hindi.
Her son, Arjit Paul, who is with the Indian Navy at the ‘INS Vikrant’, Kochi, was returning to work via Chennai by that train after a 20-day holiday at home, his mother said. Arjit, who miraculously escaped with minor injuries, rang her up last night to convey that he was safe, she said. “He is now on the special train to Chennai en route to Kochi,” said Samitha.
Amidst a distinct sense of disquiet and latent grief that hung over Chennai Central Railway Station since this morning, -gateway to the South for millions of ‘Dakshin-bound’ Indians for different reasons from study, medical treatment to places of religious pilgrimage like Rameshwaram-, a 25-strong contingent of aid staff including doctors left here to meet the “urgent special needs” of passengers of the in-coming train carrying the survivors and others at Southern Railway (SR)’s jurisdictional entry point of Gudur, 139 Kms from Chennai in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
The renewed Coromandel Express with 23 coaches left the accident site for Chennai at 5 am this morning through a circuitous route and is expected to reach here early Sunday. “When the passengers alight, we have arranged for a fleet of special buses to take them to different places in the city,” said senior SR official, Mr. S. Anantharaman, speaking to HT at the station.
While the official casualties list sent here lists 164 persons including 48 women as among the injured in the rail mishap and the death toll put at Nine so far, only about six to eight passengers in the injured list belong to either Chennai or some destination in Kerala going by their given addresses. “Most of the others injured are Chennai-bound passengers,” the official clarified.
Some of the injured passengers have their relatives in Chennai as was the case of the shocked brother Mr. Atanu Datta, a 28-year-old young man from Howrah, who was among the dead. Datta was said to be coming to the city for a job-interview. To help such anxious relatives reach the accident site, SR officials today put at least four of them on the Howrah-bound ‘Coromandel Express’ from here this morning with ‘complementary passes’.
In fact, SR officials learnt about Datta’s death only from his relatives. The deceased’s sister in Chennai, Meena Kant and her son Abhishek Kant, besides one Mohammed Aslam from the city were among the four who left for the accident site to claim the bodies of their relatives.
These relatives first missed the out-going super-fast train to Howrah this morning. But in a touching gesture, SR officials stopped it at a nearby station and rushed them by a fast local train to catch it. Tonight’s Howrah Mail and Sunday’s Coromandel Express from here stand cancelled. One Mr. A. K. Sinha and another Mr. Pawan Pillai from Brahmapur in West Bengal are among the dead persons identified by the officials so far.
A quick-run through of the injured persons list shows that many of them are from places in Burdwan, Howrah and 24 Parganas Districts of West Bengal, besides quite a few from Bihar, Jaharkhand and Tripura. A few passengers are even from far-away Dhaka in Bangladesh. The SR officials explained this to a trend of a large number of people streaming in from the East and North-Eastern States for medical treatment in Chennai and Vellore.
For Ms. Protima Manna, believed to be coming to the city for medical consultations, from Banali in 24 Parganas (South) District of West Bengal, the tragedy was double-fold. While she survived the mishap, her husband Lakshmi Narayan Manna got crushed to death in one of the mangled coaches. A few Defense and CRPF personnel are also among the injured.
Except for the serious cases who have been referred to the Hospitals in Jajpur and Cuttack, “we learnt that many of the injuries are minor,” SR officials said. In photographs and TV grabs, the accident site “looks ghastly and disturbing, but the scope for serious injuries is less when people travel by anti-telescopic coaches,” another official said in a consoling vein.
While everyone here prays and waits with bated breath for the survivors and other passengers to arrive in Chennai safely, there is no clue yet about the passengers who traveled in the first two general coaches just behind the engine, which capsized and which are usually over-crowded, carrying at least 150 persons against its capacity of 80 persons in each.