“I pray to God that such an incident never happens in future”

A minor who rescued many in the train disaster recalls the deadly night

Debi Mohanty | June 8, 2023


#Odisha   #Railway   #accident   #disaster  


Life is slowly limping back to normalcy in Bahanaga, a block headquarters town in Odisha’s Balasore district that witnessed one of the deadliest rail disasters of the century. Train operations have resumed as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has begun the probe into the accident that claimed at least 288 lives. However, residents of this lesser-known place are yet to get over the shock of the tragedy. They can’t forget that night.

What will be remembered for long is the courage and commitment displayed by these anonymous villagers, who responded immediately after the accident and saved many lives. They did everything, till the administration swung into action, according to those present at the spot, well after an hour of the tragic incident. One of these early responders was a 17-year-old, Subhransu Panda of Bahanaga.

Subhransu, who cleared his intermediate examination last month and is planning to pursue a B.Pharm. course, was at the mobile phone shop run by his brother-in-law at the Bahanaga market. With approximately over 500 shops, big and small on either side of the road, this market caters to around 40 villages around it.

Lying on the NH 16, Bahanaga boasts of a passenger halt – Bahanaga Bazar railway station and a public health centre (PHC).  The station is just 500 metres from the market.

It was around seven in the evening of June 2. Despite the high humidity level, some 500-600 people were present in the market. They heard whistles of a train.
 
“All of a sudden came a frightening noise. It was too scary,” remembers Subhransu. To get a sense of what had happened, he jumped out of the shop. Seeing scores of people running, he joined them in the race too. “We ran as fast we could,” he adds.

However, little did Subhransu or others moving towards the station did imagine they were going to witness a tragedy of unimaginable scale caused by an accident involving three trains: the 12841 Shalimar (Kolkata)- Chennai Coromandel Express, a stationary goods train and the 12864 (SMVB-HWH) Yashwantpur-Howrah Express.

While approaching the station, they saw from a distance that some coaches had climbed on others, while a few lay scattered like match boxes away from the tracks. In total, 17 coaches – 15 of Coromandel Express and two of the Yeshwantpur-Howrah – had been badly damaged. Three general coaches of Coromandel Express and two of the Howrah bound train were the worst affected.

By the time Subhransu and others reached the spot, around 80-90 local youths had arrived. Shubhransu’s brother-in-law joined a few minutes later. His farmer father Sudhansu Panda was there too, but Subhransu didn’t know that till he was back home seven hours later.

Subhransu says the scene at the spot shocked him. Hundreds of passengers stuck inside the coaches screamed for help as scores of with severe injuries were seething in pain. There was blood all around, chopped hands and other body parts strewn over a kilometre stretch. “It would have scared even the bravest of persons,” he narrates.

However, he, like others, mustered courage and wasting no time they all worked like machines in the darkness. It was an enormously difficult job.

While the doors of coaches had been jammed tightly, some coaches were at around 20 feet height. Some of the youths brought from their homes bamboo ladders and climbed up the damaged coaches. Kicking hard with their legs, they succeeded in opening the doors, while some of them, using the pieces of iron rods on the tracks, broke glass panes of windows of the air-conditioned coaches.

They pulled out as many passengers they could. Some of the passengers had minor injuries, but the majority had sustained severe injuries with blood gushing out of their bodies.

Those with cars sped the severely injured ones to the hospitals in Bahanaga and Gopalpur. Some injured passengers were carried on bikes and auto rickshaws. They also dialed 108 for ambulance and in less than half an hour three ambulances, one from Bahanaga PHC and two from Gopalpur hospital, were carrying the injured for medical attention in Soro, a bigger town some 10-12 km away.

Soon, hundreds of villagers of all ages including women from Bahanaga and its adjoining villages such as Kamaripur, Ichhapur, Daradia and Krushnapur rushed to the accident site. Collectively, they had only one goal – to save as many lives as they could.
 
Subhransu says that while the rescue act was carried out by the youths, the younger ones brought buckets of water from tube wells after water bottles in the market were exhausted quickly. The senior citizens and women served water to the passengers. They also distributed, biscuits, breads, chips and banana. Sometime around midnight, cooked food; rice, dal and subji prepared by village women were brought in and offered to those with minor or no injuries.

The administration swung into action after an hour of the accident. Police, NDRF and ODRAF teams took over the rescue operations as around 100 ambulances briskly moved with the injured ones to hospitals. Well past 1 o’clock Subhransu returned home.

“The locals were busy assisting in the rescue job,” he says. “I was tired and hungry, but neither could I eat anything nor sleep for a minute. Early morning the next day I reached the spot. There were heaps of dead bodies, but majority of the injured had been taken to the hospital,” adds Subhransu.

Even for three days after that night, local villagers continued to provide water, cooked food, and dahi to those engaged in rescue and then track laying work.

Though Subhransu is satisfied with the timely response from the villagers, he prays that accidents like the one at Bahanaga shouldn’t happen again. “Unless one has witnessed the situation, he or she can’t imagine how pathetic it was. I pray to God that such an incident never happens in future.”

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