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Train sinks in village bid to save lives

Hyderabad, Oct. 30: Saturday’s train accident, which claimed over 130 lives, was caused by panic-stricken villagers who unknowingly endangered the passengers’ lives in the anxiety to save their own, police and railway officials said today.

Residents of Gollapalli had breached an irrigation tank ' on the side facing away from their low-lying village ' to prevent it from bursting and flooding their homes.

This sent a huge wave of water hurtling towards a rail bridge 2 km away and washing it away. The Secunderabad-bound Delta Express reached the spot, about 30 km from Hyderabad, in pre-dawn darkness and plunged down the non-existent bridge.

Earlier, officials had blamed nature, suggesting it was the incessant rain that had caused the tank to burst.

“It now appears the villagers broke the bund of their tank to allow the rain water to flow down,” the Nalgonda superintendent of police, M.M. Bhagawat, said today.

Villagers who are being questioned by the police admit that they had cut the bund but said they had had no idea it might cause a tragedy. “We just wanted to save our lives; our homes and fields,” 36-year-old Gopanna, a farmer, said. “We didn’t want to kill anybody.”

A frightened Papa Reddy, aged about 45, said: “I didn’t do anything; I just went with the rest to the spot and stood watching.”

The villagers said another irrigation tank at Yellanki, 10 km away and on higher ground, had earlier given away during the weekend downpour and water had swirled into Gollapalli. So they didn’t want to take chances with the tank nearer home.

No arrests have been made so far.

Nearly 1,700 of the state’s 6 lakh irrigation tanks had burst during the weekend.

The tanks, with capacities below 10 tmc, burst easily in heavy rain, flooding not only villages but even low-lying colonies in Hyderabad.

Many could well have been breached by villagers themselves, officials said.

The tanks, with capacities below 10 tmc, burst easily in heavy rain, flooding not only villages but even low-lying colonies in Hyderabad.

The state’s irrigation and panchayati raj departments look after the tanks. “We have begun strengthening the bunds and embankments of all the tanks,” an irrigation official said.

It’s not only villagers who are guilty of thoughtless action. The Visakhapatnam civic authorities had a few weeks ago opened the gates of the large Meghanadrigaddai reservoir, flooding the airport and parts of the town.

Rescuers tonight called off the search for bodies after recovering 21 more that raised the count to 111. Another 20 bodies are feared to have been washed away down the stream the coaches fell into.

“We doubt any survivors can be found in the compartments now,” a South Central Railway spokesman said.

An NGO has photographed the bodies and uploaded them on the Internet for the benefit of relatives. The pictures are available at www.helpline.unknownbodies.com.

The Railway Board has appointed R.C. Agrawal, a vigilance section official, to conduct a judicial inquiry into the accident.

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