Mohamed Abdel Rahman had no idea that a video of him had gone viral.
With no Internet access on his mobile phone, the 32-year-old railway worker didn’t know that people across Egypt were hailing him as a hero. Then his friends showed him CCTV footage that captures him frantically chasing people engulfed in flames and trying to put out fires.
His heroic actions happened after an accident at Cairo’s busiest train station that claimed 25 lives and injured dozens of people. The station was set ablaze after a train collided with a platform and its fuel tank exploded, state-run media outlet Al-Ahram reported.
If it were not for Abdel Rahman and others who tried to help, Egyptians on social media said, the death toll could have been higher.
“This is the real hero who saved the people who were burning. The hero Mohamed Abdel Rahman,” tweeted Mohamed Magdy Naeem along with a photo of Abdel Rahman.
Abdel Rahman initially did not talk about Wednesday’s accident, worried that speaking to the media might jeopardize his job at Ramses station in central Cairo. But his bosses gave him the green light to talk. After that, his phone has rarely stopped ringing.
“Everything happened in three to five minutes. I didn’t think at that moment. I just reacted like what anyone would do in this situation,” Abdel Rahman told CNN as he sat in his kiosk, near the platform where the train sparked the fires.
“We were the closest people to the accident,” said Abdel Rahman. “The nearest thing to my hand was the water. I took it and ran to help the people who were screaming.”
Rahman spent Wednesday night at the kiosk, his work uniform still bearing bloodstains and partly blackened by fire. Thursday was the second half of his two-day shift and he was looking forward to going back to his family around 100 kilometers outside of Cairo.
“There were some women screaming, I went to put out the fire by water. One of my colleagues gave me a blanket, I covered the women with it,” recalled Abdel Rahman. “Someone ran inside the tunnel while he was caught on fire. He held my back screaming, ‘please help me.’ I told him ‘stop touching me so I can help you.'”
Egypt’s Health Minister, Hala Zayed, told reporters in a news conference Wednesday that many of the injured were in a critical condition, with second- and third-degree burns. Thirty ambulances responded to the scene. The minister said that people in the area volunteered to take some of the injured to the hospital in their own cars.
Egypt’s Prosecutor General, Nabil Sadek, has ordered an investigation, according to Al-Ahram.
Egypt has a history of train disasters. The deadliest happened in 2002, when a fire on a passenger train killed more than 320 people.
Government records show 14,349 train accidents between 2005 and 2017. The worst year was 2017, which saw 1,793 incidents, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.
A ‘normal’ act
Abdel Rahman said he doesn’t know if those he helped are still alive and can’t remember how many people he tried to save. The gruesome footage of people running about engulfed in flames as he chased them with water bottles brought back vivid memories.
“There were many people dead; we evacuated a young child from the railway rods. He was dead. We put him in a blanket and put him in the platform,” said Abdel Rahman.
He said that back in his home of Sharkia, an Egyptian village east of the Nile delta, his actions would be “normal.”
“There were other people helping, but I have had the attention because I appeared at the surveillance camera,” said Abdel Rahman.
“I’m from a village where when a fire broke, we don’t wait for firefighters, everyone in the village goes to help.”