The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Passengers trapped in burning bus at Taratala

A routine morning journey turned into a blazing nightmare for over three dozen passengers on Monday, when their CSTC bus caught fire on Majherhat bridge. But a tragedy was averted and the passengers escaped with minor injuries.

It was 10.30 am on Monday, near the Taratala crossing, when the bus coming from Esplanade suddenly pulled up on the bridge, smoke filling the cabin and flames leaping out of the engine. Most passengers managed to jump clear but a few were trapped in the burning bus. Passersby rushed to their rescue. At least seven passengers, including two women and a child, were injured while trying to escape through a single door. But there were no reports of burn injuries.

Even as rescue operations were on, one of the passengers, Adhir Bose, rang up Behala fire brigade station — a 10-minute drive from the spot of the freak blaze — from his cellphone. Witnesses later alleged that it took the firemen at least half-an-hour to reach the site. Two fire engines were pressed into service, but by then the crowd had managed to douse the flames.

Anindita Mitra, a passenger, said: “Everything was fine till the bus hit the Majherhat bridge. Suddenly, we felt a jerk and the bus ground to a halt in the middle of the southern slope of the bridge. Before we could realise what was wrong, some of us spotted thick smoke billowing out of the engine.”

As the smoke filled the bus, the passengers tried desperately to open the door, but in vain. “The door was jammed and the conductor was in the driver’s cabin, trying to locate the source of the fire. We were finding it difficult to breathe,” recounted Reba Samanta, who was travelling with her three-year-old daughter.

There was panic when flames started licking the engine lid. One of the passengers, finally, managed to push open the door, sparking a scramble for safety. In the ensuing melee, around seven passengers suffered minor cuts and bruises. By then, both the driver and the conductor had jumped out of the bus.

Around 15 passengers — mostly women and children —could not leave the bus. “They were screaming for help. It was scary,” said Hindol Karmakar, a passenger. Within 20 minutes, the ‘rescue team’ had drawn water from nearby taps and handpumps to fight the flames.

“The bus has been sent to the garage to check whether a technical snag sparked the fire,” said a CSTC official.

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