ACCIDENT WATCH: Tanker topples, oil spill on road – 800 commuters stuck for 5 hours on Assam-Siliguri highway

ACCIDENT WATCH: Tanker topples, oil spill on road – 800 commuters stuck for 5 hours on Assam-Siliguri highway – could have been much worse… Hurrah, for Kalchini police and fire department for quick thinking and prompt action ?!!

Fire personnel spray foam around the fallen tanker - prompt action and greater awareness ?!! (Photo by Anirban Choudhury)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Alipurduar, July 11: An oil tanker with 12,000 litres of fuel toppled on NH31C a little after noon today, leaving almost 800 people stranded and cutting off road connectivity between Siliguri and Assam for five hours.

The driver of the Bharat Petroleum tanker on its way to Barobisha on the Assam border said he was trying to avoid colliding with a group of cows that had suddenly come out of the Buxa Tiger Reserve on the national highway. “But I lost control of the vehicle and it skidded on the highway,” said Parimal Barman, who suffered injuries on the head and leg.

The oil spill from the tanker that spread over 30 metres prompted Kalchini police to cordon off the area, 11km from Alipurduar town.

Around 300 heavy vehicles were stranded on both sides of the cordon from 12.30pm till a little after 5.30 in the evening when the road was cleared.

At least 20 buses between Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri, Siliguri and Jaigaon were stuck on the highway as there are no alternative routes in the 10km stretch of the road that passes through the tiger reserve. (*?!!)

Only a few ambulances with patients were allowed to cross the cordoned area. They were pushed by the police and fire personnel. The ambulances had to switch off their engines because of the risk of a spark.

Bandana Sarkar who was on a private bus to Siliguri had to return home after three hours. “I am taking an autorickshaw to Alipurduar,” she said. Only smaller vehicles like the autorickshaws could turn around and go back to the place from where they had come.

Ravi Oraon from Kalchini was on his way to Calcutta with an ailing relative. They had tickets for Kanchankanya Express from Alipurduar Junction at 4.45pm.

When The Telegraph caught up with him, he was already getting ready to walk a kilometre of the cordoned area and then take an auto-rickshaw.

Later, he said over the phone: “We were just in time for the train. We took the right decision by not waiting any more. It was difficult for my relatives, but better than missing the doctor’s appointment.”

Pradeep Sarkar, the officer in charge of the Alipurduar fire station, said: “We could not take the risk of even allowing the smaller vehicles to pass. The oil was leaking and even the smoke coming out of the silencer could ignite the fuel. We had spread foam to cut off air supply to the spilled fuel. Then we got another tanker to drain off the diesel.” Sarkar said petrol was more combustible than the 8,000 litres of diesel kept in two compartments of the tanker.

After a crane put the tanker back on the road a little after 5pm, it was taken to the Nimati petrol pump to drain off the 4,000 litres of petrol.

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