| Fleeing villagers at Rajbandh station
Rajbandh, June 4: Once a bustling little borough off the railway tracks, Rajbandh is deserted, almost resembling a ghost town with rows of empty houses and streets without a soul. Even the stray dog has gone into hiding.
About 100 families living in the area flanked by the Indian Oil Corporation storage tanks complex and the Rajbandh railway station have moved into friends or relatives’ homes in safer places since the fire broke last evening.
They will return only after the blaze is put out completely.
“It is no longer safe here. I am told that the tank can still blow up. Why don’t you join us at our relative’s place at nearby Andal,” said Minati Sarkel.
Even as thick smoke hung over the town the last batch of residents was waiting this morning to hop onto the next local train and head away from home.
Holding her one-year-old son Aloke close to her heart, Minati grabbed a bag containing some valuables and walked towards the platform where many of her neighbours were waiting.
Railway officials said all trains left Rajbandh station full. Many of them made “emergency” stops. “Frantic residents squatted on the tracks and stopped some trains by themselves at night,” said Sanyasi Pada Majhi, a railway employee.
“Dada, jebhabe lok jacchhe, mone holo abar desh bhag holo bujhi (By the rush it seemed another Partition),” he added.
Sikha Das took the Howrah-Mokama express at 3 am and headed to Andal, where a relative stays. “The train made an unscheduled stop and I boarded with daughters Mita and Sweety. I have come back to collect whatever valuables we had,” she said.
Policemen went around blaring over microphones Burdwan superintendent of police Neeraj Singh’s appeal to residents not to panic and assurance that there was nothing to fear but only a handful paid heed. Shops, pharmacies and telephone booths were locked.
“We have not evacuated anybody. The situation is under control but we cannot stop people from leaving,” Singh said.
Some like Monmoto Haldar, a rickshaw-puller, stayed back to make the best of the bad times. “Most of my folks have left but I did not to earn whatever came my way. Yesterday was very good business. Today the place is completely deserted,” Haldar said.
Since the fire leapt menacingly to tank 12 in the IOC installation around 6.15 last evening, panic set in at nearby Gopalpur, Monikara, Amlajora, Notungram. The initial curiosity that led most of the villagers to the disaster site soon wore thin.
Students of the nearby Durgapur Institute of Advanced Technology and Management, a private engineering college, were also planning to leave.
“I am supposed to take my exams but it seems that everything is cancelled now,” said Jatadhar Pandey, a resident of Chittaranjan. His friend Tapas Dutta wants to go home, afraid that the fire might finally engulf everything in its vicinity.