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15 die in pilfering incident

Fuel containers piled up along the railway track after the attempted pilferage of fuel near Rangapahar in Karbi Anglong on Saturday. (Inset) Some of the victims who died after inhaling toxic gas. (NP)
Published on 21 Sep. 2008 1:07 AM IST
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At least 15 people were killed and scores more fell ill Saturday after inhaling toxic gas while attempting to steal fuel after forcibly stopping a freight train in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district, official sources said. An Assam police spokesman said the incident took place before dawn near Rangapahar village close to the Diphu railway station. The freight train with 48 wagons carrying high speed diesel and petrol was intercepted by a group of people numbering 200 around 1 a.m. Saturday and then the pilferage began, a railway official said. The location where the train was forcibly stopped was isolated and dense jungle terrain. Witnesses and officials said locals opened the wagon’s lid to pilfer fuel when thick fumes coupled with oil spilling out with great force engulfed them, leading to the casualties. While Assam police recovered eight bodies from the spot, Nagaland Police led by OC, GRPS Dimapur, Mekando Odyuo later recovered seven bodies, one from Bade village and six from Dhansiripar village under Dimapur district. According to Karbi Anglong additional SP, NN Goswami, the dead included two NSCN (I-M) activists identified as Dangi Halflongbar (30) and Rahe Jigdung (28). The seven bodies recovered by GRPS Dimapur personnel were identified as Md. Shahajahan (37) presently residing at Bade village, Pibal Badosa (30), Bikash Difusa (29), Ketondra Difosa (31), Jageshwar Halflongbar, Puna Chandra Jigdung and Johor Garo, all from Dhansiripar village. It could be possible that some of the dead bodies had been already removed from the area by the time the police arrived and hence a formal death count was not immediately available. The freight train with 48 wagons was carrying high speed diesel and petrol from the Numaligarh refinery in Assam to Mugalsarai in Uttar Pradesh. Railway officials said there were instances in the past when locals intercepted freight trains in the same stretch to pilfer oil. The civil administration and police had been informed about this. The bodies were strewn in the fields at least 100 metres away from the site, Assam police said adding 500 plastic drums filled with petrol were found near the tracks. Asserting that an organised syndicate was operating, official sources said, there were also allegations about militants, security personnel and railway staff being involved. Meanwhile, chemical experts here said inhalation of petrol fumes could not lead to death. Premier Cotton College Chemistry department head, Dr Satyen Choudhury here said, inhalation of petrol fumes or hydro-carbon in a closed area could lead to inability to breathe followed by death. But under normal temperature and in open space, petrol evaporated, Choudhury said. Allegations were also being made by some quarters that residue of some chemicals in the tankers may have combined with the fuel and formed a toxic gas.

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