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Monday, July 19, 2010

'More lives lost due to late arrival of relief trains'

SAINTHIA: Had it not been for people like Debashish Saha, the Sainthia train accident could have seen many more deaths. Saha — and hundreds of local residents like him — rushed out of their homes to start the initial rescue operations, dragging out bodies and ferrying the injured to hospital.

In contrast, the railways reacted late. The first relief train reached Sainthia after 3.30am — well over one-and-a-half hours after the accident. This train contained nothing but first-aid material, grossly inadequate to deal with a disaster of this magnitude. A train with more relief and emergency material chugged in around 5.45am.

By then, dawn had broken and the groans and cries had ceased. Many had been shifted to hospital, others had died. The locals-turned-rescuers from villages like Rakshakalitala and Nandikesharitala had some tough questions for railway minister Mamata Banerjee when she reached Sainthia in the afternoon. "Why did your men take so long to arrive? Why were there no rescue trains till almost the morning?" they screamed.

There were also allegations that as the traumatised survivors spilled on to the platform, railway authorities switched off the lights for a few minutes, plunging the station in darkness, adding to the chaos.

"I've been working on this route for 35 years and have seen many accidents. But I've never seen something like this. Body parts strewn around, the injured wailing for help... we did what we could, asking local drivers to ferry the victims to hospital. When some refused we even had to threaten and slap them," said Nirmal Mandal, a railway hawker.

Mandal stressed that had the railways responded in time, more of the injured would have reached hospitals earlier and a few more lives could have been saved. By the time relief train arrived most of the injured had been moved to hospital.

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