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80 Killed as Gas Blast Sparks Fire on Train : India: Investigators say a cigarette may have ignited a leaking cylinder used for welding.

From Times Wire Services

A leaking gas cylinder exploded in a moving commuter train Monday and set off a fire that left at least 80 people dead and as many as 100 others injured, news reports and officials said.

The fire started about 10:15 a.m., shortly after the train departed the Gulzar Bagh station on the eastern end of Patna, the capital of northeastern Bihar state, 530 miles southeast of New Delhi, police said.

The 16-car train was bound for the city’s main railway station.

Based on survivors’ reports, investigators believed that the inferno was sparked by the explosion of a cylinder of oxyacetylene gas, used in welding, that was brought aboard one of the cars.

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The nozzle of the cylinder, the hull of which was later recovered from the charred remains of the car, apparently came off, releasing the pressurized contents in a tremendous gush, police said.

Investigators speculated that the leaking gas was then ignited by a cigarette and the cylinder exploded in a ball of fire, police said. Flames then spread rapidly backward to the next car.

Firefighters eventually extinguished the blaze, but “the heat was so intense no one dared to enter the train for at least a half-hour after the fire,” said S. K. Sharma, the top civil administrator in the region.

At least 80 people were killed, most of them burned so badly that identification was impossible, police officers at the scene said. Some witnesses said that as many as 95 people may have perished.

Police said a few passengers may have died in a stampede to escape the flames, which started at the front of the first car, blocking an exit door.

A large number of bodies were found piled on top of each other at one end of the first car, indicating that passengers had huddled together in a bid to escape the flames, police said.

The injured were taken to two nearby hospitals.

“After smelling something like gas, I felt suffocated and jumped out of the train,” said Ram Narain Prasad, who had a head injury.

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“We were playing cards. Suddenly a strong smell of gas engulfed the whole compartment and . . . a column of thick smoke and leaping flames enveloped the ill-fated bogey (car),” Suresh Singh, a railway employee, told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Police said it appeared there had been about 100 people in each car, a large number of them office workers on the way to their jobs. Most of those in the first car died, they said.

Officers prevented hundreds of curious spectators and frantic relatives seeking family members from crowding into the disaster area.

The once-red paint of the cars was seared black and the wooden chairs inside were badly burned.

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Federal Railway Minister George Fernandes gave Parliament a preliminary report on the tragedy and then flew to Patna to supervise the investigation.

Bihar Chief Minister Lallu Prasad Yadav announced that he would demand from the Railway Ministry compensatory payments of $11,764 for the next-of-kin of each of the dead.

The New Delhi office of the commissioner of railway safety said it would probe the tragedy.


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