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Europe

Scores killed as train derails in northwestern Spain

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-07-25

At least 80 people died and more than 140 were injured Wednesday after a train derailed in northwestern Spain, officials said. Spanish newspaper "El Pais" quoted the train's conductor as saying he may have been going at twice the legal speed.

A passenger train flew off the tracks in northwest Spain late on Wednesday, killing at least 80 passengers and injuring more than 140, officials said Thursday.

Four carriages overturned in the resulting crash, which forced several of the wagons to pile up on top of each other. One was ripped apart by the force of the impact.

Spanish newspaper "El Pais" quoted the train's conductor as saying he may have been going at twice the legal speed, 160km/h (100mph) in an 80km/h zone. "El Mundo" also reported that the train may have been speeding.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is from Santiago de Compostela, declared three days of national mourning for the victims as he visited the scene of the accident.

"I want to express my affection and solidarity with the victims of the terrible train accident in Santiago," he said earlier in a Twitter message.

The train did not have "any technical problems" and had been inspected just hours earlier, the head of state-owned Renfe railway company said Thursday.

"What we know is that the train did not have any technical problems, the train had passed an inspection that same morning," Julio Gomez-Pomar Rodriguez told Cadena Cope radio station.

Renfe said it was too soon to say what caused the accident.

"There is an investigation under way and we have to wait. We will know what the speed is very soon when we consult the train's black box," a Renfe spokesman said.

'Carriages overturned'

Several witnesses spoke of a loud explosion at the moment of impact.

"I was at home and I heard something like a clap of thunder, It was very loud and there was lots of smoke," said 62-year-old Maria Teresa Ramos, who lived just metres from where the accident happened.

"It's a disaster, people are crying out. Nobody has ever seen anything like this," she added.

The accident happened at 8:42pm (18:42 GMT) Wednesday as the train carrying 218 passengers and four staff was about to enter Santiago de Compostela station in the northwestern region of Galicia.

A total of 143 people were said to have various injuries.

Francisco Otero, 39, who was inside his parents' home just beside the section of the track where the accident happened, said he "heard a huge bang. As if there had been an earthquake".

"The first thing I saw was the body of a woman. I had never seen a corpse before. But above all what caught my attention was that there was a lot of silence, some smoke and a small fire," he told AFP.

"My neighbours tried to pull out people who were trapped inside the carriages with the help of pickaxes and sledgehammers and they eventually got them out with a hand saw. It was unreal."

The train had left Madrid and was heading for the town of Ferrol as the Galicia region was preparing celebrations in honour of its patron saint James.

A witness told radio Cadena Ser that carriages overturned several times on a bend and came to a halt piled up on each other.

The crash occurred on a stretch of high-speed track about four kilometres from the main train station in Santiago de Compostela, the destination of the famous El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage which has been followed by Christians since the Middle Ages.

The train was the Alvia model which is able to adapt between high-speed and normal tracks.

Emergency services workers in red jackets tended to injured passengers lying on a patch of grass as ambulance sirens wailed in the background.

"There are bodies laying on the railway track. It's a Dante-esque scene," Alberto Nunez Feijoo, president of the regional government, told news radio Cadena Ser.

A municipal building was made available for psychological counselling and as a centre for providing information.

Carriages were lying across the tracks, some of them jammed alongside a concrete siding.

Pope Francis called for prayers for the victims.

"He joins the families in their sorrow and calls for prayers ... in this tragic event," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters during the pope's visit to Rio de Janeiro.

The town hall of Santiago de Compostela called off planned concerts and firework displays that had been planned as part of the festivities in honour of its patron saint.

The disaster was one of the worst in the history of Spain's rail network. In 1944, hundreds were killed in a crash also between Madrid and Galicia while 77 people were killed in a 1972 derailment in Andalusia in the south.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

 

Date created : 2013-07-24

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