SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain: A train derailed outside the ancient northwestern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela on Wednesday evening, killing at least 77 people and injuring up to 131 in one of Europe’s worst rail disasters.
Bodies covered in blankets lay next to the overturned carriages as smoke billowed from the wreckage. Firefighters clambered over the twisted metal trying to get survivors out of the windows, while ambulances and fire engines surrounded the scene.
The government said it was working on the assumption the derailment, which occurred on the eve of the city’s main religious festival, was an accident.
Sabotage or attack was unlikely to be involved, an official source said, though the devastation will have stirred memories of a train bombing in Madrid in 2004, carried out by Islamist extremists, that killed 191 people.
The Santiago de Compostela train operated by state rail company Renfe with 247 people on board derailed as the city prepared for the festival of Saint James, when thousands of Christian pilgrims from across the world pack the streets.
The city’s tourism board said all festivities, including the traditional High Mass at the centuries-old cathedral, were cancelled as the city went into mourning following the crash.
“It was going so quickly. … It seems that on a curve the train started to twist, and the wagons piled up one on top of the other,” passenger Ricardo Montesco told Cadena Ser radio station.
“A lot of people were squashed on the bottom. We tried to squeeze out of the bottom of the wagons to get out and we realized the train was burning. … I was in the second wagon and there was fire. … I saw corpses,” he added.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was born in Santiago de Compostela, will visit the site on Thursday morning, his spokeswoman said.
“In the face of a tragedy such as just happened in Santiago de Compostela on the eve of its big day, I can only express my deepest sympathy as a Spaniard and a Galician,” Rajoy said in a statement.
TRAVELLING TOO FAST?
El Pais newspaper cited sources close to the investigation as saying the train was travelling at over twice the speed limit on a sharp curve.
Both Renfe and state-owned Adif, which is in charge of the tracks, had opened an investigation into the cause of the derailment, Renfe said.