Panchla, Jan. 28: It was all over in 30 minutes: a luxury bus burnt to cinders in front of about a hundred onlookers, with most of its passengers trapped inside .
The residents of Bikijakhola could do little to save the victims even though the local youths, carrying lathis, torches, ropes and bamboo poles, had rushed to help rescue the victims. All they could do was help the fire brigade and police extract and put charred bodies and limbs in sacks and plastic bags.
“The early morning silence was shattered by an explosion, followed by cries of terror. At first, I thought it was a tyre burst, but then I saw a big flame. I called two of my friends and rushed to the spot. The bus and the mini truck were up in flames. I raised an alarm and more people gathered, but we could do nothing because the flames were too intense. It was impossible to move closer to the vehicles,’’ recalled Manoj Dalui, a local youth.
Most of the onlookers felt helpless as they watched the struggling passengers inside the bus scream in terror.
“The flames were about 10 to 12 feet high. The mini truck was loaded with highly inflammable items like paints, turpentine, varnish. We tried to douse the flames but a bucketful of water was like a drop of dew in the flames. We had no alternative but to remain mute spectators,” said Mohit Mondal, a local trader.
Subal Ghosh, 15, rushed towards the burning bus after wrapping himself in a wet sack in an attempt to rescue a woman hanging from a window with her torso on fire.
“I failed to control myself when I saw half of the woman’s body inside the bus and half outside. I grabbed her feet and pulled. Both of us fell down and some people dragged us to a safe place,” he said.
About 10 passengers managed to escape from the burning bus by jumping out after breaking its windowpanes. They were taken to hospital on vehicles plying on the route, stopped by local residents. By the time the police and firemen arrived, almost 45 minutes after the first alarm was raised, there was little rescue work to be done.
Firemen sprayed water on the bus but most of those trapped inside had succumbed to the heat by then. Policemen, with the help of local residents, recovered 37 bodies, charred beyond recognition. Burnt limbs and body parts were recovered and placed in plastic bags.
The police and fire brigade personnel left the accident site at 3 pm even as the residents continued to search the close vicinity for body parts.