Madurai train fire: Jolted from sleep, ran for life — train fire survivor recounts ordeal

The fire broke out at 5:15 am on 26 August while the coach was parked at the yard. Fire service personnel put out the flames by 7:15 am.


Published Aug 26, 2023 | 5:55 PMUpdatedAug 26, 2023 | 5:55 PM

Six bodies were found in a charred condition inside the coach and three more were found with severe burn injuries. (Supplied)

Uttar Pradesh resident Alka Prajapati was sleeping in the ill-fated private 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.

Passengers recall the fire

“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,” Alka told PTI, while at the government hospital where she was receiving medical attention.

Railway employees arrived there 15-20 minutes later and all efforts were put into dousing the fire. “But it (the coach) was blazing,” she said, still recovering from the shock.

Some survivors who spoke to the media said that they were proceeding to Rameswaram.

Vinod Kumar, another passenger, said that 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 that 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 were stuck inside. They could not get down (quickly) since it was a sleeper coach,” he said.

Also Read: Fire erupts in private train coach carrying pilgrims from Lucknow

Fire broke out at 5:15 am

The fire broke out at 5:15 am on Saturday, 26 August, and fire service personnel who arrived at the spot half an hour later put out the flames by 7:15 am.

“This private party coach was attached at Nagercoil Junction yesterday, 25 August, by train number 16730 (Punalur-Madurai Express). The party coach was detached and kept at the Madurai Stabling line. The passengers in the private party coach have smuggled a gas cylinder and this has caused the fire,” the Southern Railway said.

The party coach had started its journey from Lucknow on 17 August, scheduled to reach Chennai on Sunday, 27 August, and proceed back to the UP capital from there on, it added.

Illegally smuggled cylinder

It further added, “While the coach was stabled/parked, some members of the party in the private coach were using an illegally-smuggled cooking gas cylinder unauthorisedly for preparing tea/snacks, which caused the fire in the stabled/parked coach.”

“Most of the passengers were able to get out of the coach when they noticed the fire. Some passengers had already gotten down at the platform even before detachment of the coach,” it added.

The private party had illegally carried a gas cylinder, stove, and other inflammable articles, “which led to the freak fire accident,” the Southern Railways stated.

Among the items found at the spot was an LPG cylinder, a 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 their tragic end, while another 20 suffered burn injuries.

(Disclaimer: The headline, subheads, and intro of this report along with the photos may have been reworked by South First. The rest of the content is from a syndicated feed, and has been edited for style.)