A daily metro ride turned into a nightmare for many passengers after a fire broke out in a train here on Thursday, causing a stampede-like situation and creating panic during the evening rush hour.
Recounting the horror, the commuters blamed metro officials for not being prompt enough in rescuing them. Trapped inside the train for over an hour, they did not receive any help from authorities even after calling the helpline repeatedly.
Officials of the Kolkata metro, considered the city's lifeline, denied the charge and said the incident was reported at 5 pm and the process to douse the fire began at 5.02 pm.
"It was a horrific and frightening (incident). I was among the lucky ones to have escaped narrowly," said Ashok Das, a passenger.
The passengers had seen smoke coming out of an electrical unit of the coach when the train reached near the Maidan station in the heart of the city. Soon, the entire coach was engulfed in smoke and the passengers tried to break the window panes to ensure ventilation.
"I took the metro from Tollygunge station for Esplanade station. But, when the train reached near Maidan station, we saw fire creeping towards our coach. There was panic in the coach as all the passengers started running towards the motorman's cabin in the front and banged on the doors and window panes of the train," a woman passenger said.
The passengers alleged that there was no announcement through the public address system fitted inside the coaches. "We shouted for help, but there was no response from the authorities. Some of us then broke window panes to ensure that there was some sort of ventilation," a lady passenger said.
"We were trapped inside the metro for more than an hour. Most of the elderly passengers experienced breathing problems due to suffocation," another passenger said.
An elderly man fainted inside the coach, but was taken out by his fellow passengers. "I am a patient of asthma and, due to the smoke all of a sudden, I had a blackout. When I regained my consciousness, I was lying on the platform. Some of the passengers were sprinkling water on me," he said, while profusely thanking them.
Most of those who fell ill suffered from breathing problems and were admitted to a hospital. A few were injured during the rush of passengers to flee to safety.
Although the metro authority claimed that around 16 passengers had fallen ill, unofficial sources said that 40 passengers were admitted to a hospital.