The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Son of soil to the rescue with hut bamboo

Rafiganj, Sept. 11: It was due to the selfless efforts of a poor farmer, Pawan Prasad, and his fellow villagers of Maripur and Dersha that the lives of about 50 to 60 passengers of the AS-4 coach of the Rajdhani Express could be saved.

Prasad, who lives in a small, thatched hut by the railway track, was jolted out of sleep by the rumble of the Rajdhani rolling down to the Dhawa river and came out to see the most ghastly sight of his life — the train hanging from a broken bridge.

The stunned farmer quickly regained his composure, rushed back to wake up his neighbour Bhulua and others, saying: “Turant aao, bahut garbar ho gaya. Rajdhani gir gaya (Hurry up, some thing terrible has happened. The Rajdhani Express has fallen off the bridge).”

Prasad formed a rescue party within 20 minutes. Amid heavy downpour, he dismantled his own hut to collect some bamboos that could be used to break the windowpanes and rescue the trapped passengers.

“It was pitch-dark and we had to carry lanterns to find our way to the train. We found the front side of a coach touching the ground and its rear end on the bridge. We broke the panes and succeeded in rescuing five passengers at one go. It was a Herculean task as we could only use bamboos and shovels to carry out the operation.

Thereafter, some of us managed to crawl inside the coach through the broken window and bring out the hapless men and women one by one,” he said.

Later, they brought a few gas-cutters from a local factory and used them to cut open the door of the ill-fated coach.

Jogen Yadav, another farmer, alleged that the official rescue party reached the site around 3 am.

“Had they reached the site earlier, many of the injured passengers could have been saved. At least seven to eight of them died in our presence, but we stood helpless. It was not possible for us to provide any treatment to them or shift them elsewhere,” he recalled.

At one point, Prasad himself felt sick as he could not withstand the sight of the passengers groaning in pain and some of them dying due to lack of treatment.

Prasad and his fellow villagers, however, could not remain silent spectators to the plight of the wounded passengers pleading for food, water and medicines.

In sheer desperation, they sent a youth to the Rafiganj market, 5 km from the mishap site, to fetch medicines, cotton, dettol and bread. “Several cycle-vans were collected to transport these items from the market to the place of accident,” he said.

Traders kept their shops shut today, but distributed biscuits, bread, sweets, soft drinks and milk among the injured.

“Rafiganj, a small village of 5,000 people, has overnight become known all over the country due to the tragedy. But we never wanted our village to get this kind of publicity. We will pray to God that no other village should have the kind of experience we have gone through after the accident,” Prasad said.

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