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A village turns out to help

Before the government machinery could kick into action, the villagers plunged into the rescue mission, reports Hitender Rao.

india Updated: Feb 20, 2007 04:35 IST

On Sunday night, Narinder Singh woke up to a nightmare. In the darkness outside, burning bodies were leaping off a train at the rail crossing right across his house, their shrieks jolting him out of his slumber. Within minutes, Singh had shaken off the shock and was outside the coaches of the Samjhauta Express. So were most residents of Sewah village, summoned out of their homes by a distress call from their sarpanch Karan Singh.

Before the government machinery could kick into action, the villagers plunged into the rescue mission—- breaking windowpanes to drag out survivors, bringing in water on tractors to douse the fire, pulling out charred bodies from coaches, rescuing survivors and giving them medical aid. Police and fire brigade personnel reached the spot an hour later.

“We took out about 18 bodies from the coaches. Himmat nahi hoti thi andar jane ki (We did not have the courage to enter the coaches). It was a nightmarish experience. Burnt and half-burnt bodies were strewn all over,” said Singh.

Narinder Singh, who was the first to spot the passengers jump from the train, said, “ Their shrieks woke me up. Their skin was dangling from their limbs; they were barely able to walk. A few with minor burns were carried to the local PCO, from where they made long distance calls to their relatives.”

Sat Narain, among the first to reach the spot, saw the bodies of a woman and a few children stacked against a locked train door. “It was a desperate attempt to escape,’’ he said.

Ram Mehar and his friends hurled stones at the windowpanes to break them open. “All the doors of one coach were locked while only one door of the second coach was open,” he said.

The rescue efforts carried on into the night. There were moments of triumph, when they pulled out survivors from the coaches.

And there were moments of despair. “The most terrible thing was to watch two RPF personnel die on the tracks. They died trying to help the passengers,’’ said village head Karan Singh.

But if on Sunday, the friendship between two nations lay battered by terror in Panipat, Sewah had sent out the unmistakable message— in the darkest of hours, brotherhood shows the way.

First Published: Feb 20, 2007 04:35 IST