|The bus that was washed away. Picture by Samir Mondal
Barikul (Bankura), Sept. 6: To hell and back, alive.
This was the reaction of Ganapati Mukherjee, 50, one of the survivors of the bus tragedy in Bankura.
“After going about 500m from Fulkusma towards Raipur, we came to an old culvert on the Bhairavbanki river. A portion of it was under water. A lorry and another bus were parked on the roadside just before the culvert. Their drivers were hesitating to cross it as water was gushing over the bridge,” said Mukherjee, a revenue inspector from Raipur block.
His voice still shaking, he said: “The driver of our bus started crossing the river even though we (passengers) voiced concern. There was a light drizzle as the driver revved up the engine and started crossing the culvert. When the vehicle reached the middle of the culvert, for some reason, the engine stopped. My heart skipped a beat.”
Mukherjee said river water started entering the bus. “We were horrified. The water level started rising. The passengers, especially women and children, started screaming. The drivers and some occupants of the parked vehicles rushed to our rescue. They waded through shin-deep water with ropes. They tied the ropes to the bus and tried to pull it back onto the road.”
The bus was on the bridge for about 20 minutes. “Most of us did not dare to get off, hoping that the engine would start again or the bus would cross the culvert,” the revenue inspector said.
“Our fear turned to terror when the bus started shaking. Within seconds, it started moving with the current. We were being swept away,” Mukherjee said.
“It turned on its side and we were carried almost 100 metres with the current till the bus hit something and stopped. I scrambled out through a window on to the top (side) of the bus. Then I jumped into the river. The water was chest-deep and I somehow waded toward the bank. I was helped ashore by local people. Several other passengers did the same.”
Sitting in a makeshift camp set up nearby, Mukherjee said: “I have never had such a terrifying experience. It’s like returning from the dead. I thank God that I am alive.”
Four hours later, he was still shaking, not because of the chill in the evening wind.