77 dead in worst Spanish train crash in decades

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A train derailed near the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain on Thursday, killing as many as 70 passengers. The train which carried 238 passengers originated in Madrid and was bound for the northwestern town of Ferrol. AFP Photo

A train derailed near the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain on Thursday, killing as many as 70 passengers. The train which carried 238 passengers originated in Madrid and was bound for the northwestern town of Ferrol. AFP Photo

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA: A train hurtled off the tracks in northwest Spain killing at least 77 passengers and injuring more than 140, an official said on Thursday, the country’s deadliest rail disaster in more than 40 years.

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Four carriages overturned in the smash on Wednesday, smoke billowing from the wreckage, as bodies were lain out under blankets along the tracks.

The carriages piled into each other and folded up like an accordion. One was ripped apart by the force of the crash, one of its ends pushed up into the air.

The accident happened at 8:42 p.m. (6:42 p.m. Manila time) on Wednesday as the train carrying 218 passengers and four staff was about to enter Santiago de Compostela station in the northwestern region of Galicia.

It marks the worst rail accident in Spain since 77 people were killed in 1972 in a derailment in Andalusia in the south.

In 1944, hundreds were killed in a crash also between Madrid and Galicia.

Rescue workers recovered 73 bodies from the train’s wreckage and four more victims died later in hospital, a spokesman for the Galicia high court said on Thursday, increasing an earlier toll figure.

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

The train had left Madrid and was heading for the shipbuilding coastal town of Ferrol as the Galicia region was preparing celebrations in honor 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.

Several media outlets said the train derailed because it was speeding at the time of the accident but a spokesman for state railway company Renfe said it was too soon to say what caused the accident.

“There is an investigation underway 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.

The conductor became trapped in one of the carriages and he told the station in Santiago de Compostela by radio that he took the bend at 190 kilometers per hour (kph) in an urban zone with a speed limit of 80kph, daily El Pais reported.

“I was going at 190! I hope no one died because it will weigh on my conscience,” he said, according to the online edition of the newspaper, which cited unidentified investigation sources.

The accident happened on a stretch of high-speed track about four kilometers (2.5 miles) 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.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy arrived at the scene of the accident later on Thursday.

Rajoy, a native of the Galician town of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain where the disaster occurred, is also due to visit victims in hospital.

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

Pope Francis called for prayers for the victims.

Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Crown Prince Felipe called off their public engagements in a sign of mourning for the victims of a train crash.

The king had been scheduled to receive Spanish tenor Placido Domingo while Prince Felipe had been set to visit the installations of telecoms firm Telefonica, a spokesman for the royal household said.

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