Death Toll In Spanish Train Derailment Rises To 77

By: CBS, Posted by Chris Fisher
By: CBS, Posted by Chris Fisher
The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain has risen to, a judicial official said Thursday.

The scene where a train in northwestern Spain derailed, nearby a train station in Santiago de Compostola, on July 24, 2013. / El Pais

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, SPAIN (CBS) -- The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain has risen to, a judicial official said Thursday.

The train jumped the tracks Wednesday on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela.

Seventy-three people were found dead at the scene of the accident and four died in hospitals, said Maria Pardo Rios, spokeswoman for the Galicia region's main court. At least 141 people were injured -- some critically -- when the eight-car train carrying 218 passengers derailed about an hour before sunset.

It was Spain's deadliest train accident since 1972, when a train collided with a bus in southwestern Spain, killing 86 people and injuring 112.

A spokeswoman with Spain's Interior Ministry said Thursday that the possibility that the derailment was caused by a terrorist attack had been ruled out. She spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ministry policy.

"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," the Reuters news agency quotes passenger Ricardo Montesco as telling 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 realised the train was burning. ... I was in the second wagon and there was fire. ... I saw corpses," he added.

The Alvia 730 series train started from Madrid and was scheduled to end its journey at El Ferrol, about 60 miles north of Santiago de Compostela.

Alvias are high-speed, but do not go as fast as Spain's fastest bullet trains, called AVEs. The maximum Alvia speed is 155 mph on tracks made especially for the AVEs, and they travel at a maximum speed of 137 mph on normal gauge rails.

Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Wednesday, July 24, 2013. / EL CORREO GALLEGO/ANTONIO HERNANDEZ
The crash occurred as Santiago de Compostelathe was preparing for the festival of Saint James, when thousands of Christian pilgrims from across the world pack the streets, Reuters reports.

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, Reuters said.

Rescue workers spent the night searching through toppled and smashed cars alongside the tracks at the crash site, and Pardo said it was possible that more bodies would be found.

Many of the dead were taken to a makeshift morgue set up in the city's largest indoor sports arena.

The accident created a scene that was "Dante-esque," said Alberto Nunez Feijoo, president of the region of Galicia, of which Santiago de Compostela is the capital. He declared seven days of mourning to honor the victims.

The scene was one of horror immediately after the crash, with at least one car catching fire and smoke billowing from the site as residents of the urban neighborhood alongside the tracks tried to help victims out of the toppled cars.

Rescue workers lined up bodies covered in blankets alongside the tracks and some passengers were pulled out of broken windows. Television images showed one man atop a carriage lying on its side, using a pickaxe to try to smash through a window. Residents said other rescuers used rocks.

State-owned train operator Renfe said in a statement an unspecified number of staff were also on board during the 8.41 p.m. crash on a section of tracks about 2.5 miles from Santiago de Compostela that came online two years ago. Spanish media said the train had two conductors aboard and that both survived.

Renfe and track operator Adif were cooperating with a judge who has been appointed to investigate the accident, Renfe said.

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