RAMANATHAPURAM: The group of pilgrims from West Bengal, whose bus caught fire late on Saturday, leaving five among them charred to death and six grievously injured, is yet to recover from the trauma.
After initial treatment, the injured were shifted to the Madurai Government Rajaji Hospital on Sunday.
Sources said that the Kanyakumari-bound bus from Rameswaram was near Thirupullani when a fire broke out in the rear end of the vehicle. By the time an alarm was raised, the flames engulfed the bus.
Though a majority of the tour party managed to escape after the driver stopped the bus on the East Coast Road, five were charred to death.
Sources said had the driver delayed stopping the vehicle, the toll would have been much higher as the incident occurred a few metres ahead of a fuel outlet on the stretch. The blaze was doused by Fire and Rescue services personnel from Ramanathapuram and Erwadi. Inquiry is on to ascertain the reason behind the incident.
Police identified the dead as Biswanth Das (62), Biswanth Mandel (78), Durga Somde (55), Malathi Nayakal (60) and Gopal Chandra Babuli (70). Gayathri Bauli (50), Suriya Rega (26), Gopu Rani (50), Pisnu Priya Paul (50), Gurupoth Manal (65) and Sukthi Puthal Sobra (58), who suffered burns, were rushed to the government headquarters hospital here.
Sources said that the 81-member tour party, comprising pilgrims four districts in West Bengal, was on an annual trip to religious places in South India. The tour party had set out on August 16 and visited various places before reaching Rameswaram. After visiting Tirupati, the party contacted one Seenivasan, a resident of Thirukazhunkundram, who arranged for the Southern leg of the tour. He too was aboard the ill-fated vehicle when the fire broke out.
Maheswaran, a head constable attached to the Keelakarai police station who witnessed the incident, said: “I saw a man on fire screaming for help before collapsing. Despite the huge flames, the travellers began approaching the bus to retrieve their luggage. Immediately when we were informed that there were LPG cylinders on the bus, we moved the passengers to a safe location.”
The travellers had engaged five cooks for the tour and the bus had six LPG cylinders onboard, which began to burst in the intense heat. The police had to forcibly remove the huge crowd that had assembled on the spot by that time.
Rebati Pal, a survivor, said, “Most of us were asleep. Upon sensing the commotion. I woke up only to see people scrambling to escape and the bus on fire. Instead of helping the passengers, the driver fled.”
Ravichandran, a resident of Thirupullani and an auto driver who also witnessed the accident said, “It was terrifying. The police were trying to pull away the passengers from the fire when the cylinders blasted.”
Seenivasan, the tour agent, said that he jumped off the bus the moment he saw the flames. “I was sitting in the front along with the cooks and the cleaner when I saw the fire. I raised an alarm and jumped off,” he said.
District Collector Nantha Kumar told Express that two buses would be arranged to take the survivors to Chennai, from where they would be sent to their hometown in trains. “The district administration has made all arrangements, including food and medicine, for the survivors,” he added.
Meanwhile, the bodies of four of the deceased were cremated after performing the rites, at a crematorium here. Sources said that the body of the fifth victim, Biswanath Das, would be cremated after his son reached here from Kolkata.