A stretch of National Highway 6 near Sher-e-Punjab dhaba in Kolaghat was closed for over two hours on Friday morning after a Kharagpur-bound trailer truck hit the road divider and caught fire.
The driver’s assistant, Dilip Ghosh, was burnt alive. The driver has been admitted to SSKM Hospital in a critical condition.
Police said the accident occurred around 4am at a spot around 60km from the city.
“The truck driver lost control and the vehicle jumped the median, grazing the fuel tank against the concrete. Sparks from friction with the concrete ignited the diesel leaking from the tank. Within minutes the vehicle turned into a huge ball of fire while black smoke billowed up,” an officer said.
The raging truck forced the police to cordon off the area and stop traffic on both flanks of the highway.
Hundreds of travellers, including a bunch of five friends in a car, were caught in the resultant snarl. “We had left Calcutta around 3.30am after watching the opening match of the World Cup at a friend’s place and were hoping to reach Mandarmani by 7am and spend the weekend there. The snarl set us back by over two hours and we finally reached Mandarmani around 10am,” said Mithun Ghosh over the phone from the seaside holiday hub.
The police estimated about 700 vehicles were stuck in the jam.
The highway was opened for traffic around 6.20am after firefighters doused the blaze and the police towed the trailer truck away from the median to the roadside.
“The fire was extinguished in an hour but removing the trailer with a tow van was not possible. We had to bring a crane to shift the vehicle. The process took time,” said a senior officer at Kolaghat police station.
A similar two-hour snarl was witnessed on the Calcutta-Digha state highway on Friday during peak hour when many tourists were on the way to the coastal town for the weekend.
The police said residents of Kalinagar, around 40km off Digha, blocked the road after a car hit 32-year-old cyclist Manik Ghorai and sped away. They dispersed after police promised action against the driver.