Saturday 3 December 2016

Even the rescue workers collapse in the heat and the horror of it all

Miriam O'Callaghan

Published 13/07/2016 | 02:30

This aerial image shows what is left of the two trains after the collision. Photo: Italian Firefighter Press Office
This aerial image shows what is left of the two trains after the collision. Photo: Italian Firefighter Press Office

Red earth, white stones dazzling under the track, lines of rusted barbed wire, olive trees trembling grey-green: they are redolent of a parable.

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Except dotted throughout are men and women in the Dynorod colour of Italian disasters. Lines of squat ambulances. Behind them, helicopters scrambled on what was meant to be an uneventful Tuesday in Puglia. They look like mechanical birds, scavengers in the stubble of recently stripped fields.

Rescuers work after a head-on collision between two trains, near Corato, in the southern Italian region of Puglia. MARIO LAPORTA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers work after a head-on collision between two trains, near Corato, in the southern Italian region of Puglia. MARIO LAPORTA/AFP/Getty Images

At least 20 dead, more than 30 critically injured in the head-on train crash at 11.30am at Corato, near Bari, along the heel of the boot that is Italy.

The crash site is in open country, the track cutting through an olive grove. Access is difficult. It is hot, 37 degrees. The head of the local 'Vigili Urbani' is traumatised, uncomfortable under his gold braid. His discomfort is nothing compared to that of the 'Vigili del Fuoco', the firemen climbing through wreckage that resembles a plane crash more than an accident involving trains.

The crash was explosive, reducing the first carriages of both trains to kindling. The later carriages have a bombed-out look. At one end an engine gleams, baby blue, red and white, like a child's toy. It seems to look straight ahead as if ignoring, deliberately, the scene of devastation behind, the acid-green side of a carriage of the rival train jutting into the air at 60 degrees.

Nobody hazards a guess as why two trains, full of students, families and workers, were travelling towards each other on this single-gauge line. The media and local authorities speculate as to the possibility of human error or a technical failure that saw both trains receive a fateful and fatal green light.

Rescuers carry a body from the scene of the train crash, after two trains collided head-on near Andria, in Puglia. Photo: AP
Rescuers carry a body from the scene of the train crash, after two trains collided head-on near Andria, in Puglia. Photo: AP

For now, there are no explanations. Instead, field hospitals are laid out. Some of the emergency responders themselves are collapsing from heat, the horror of their work, distress. A call has gone out for blood donors. All doctors and nurses in the area are to report for duty.

Meanwhile, families of passengers have arrived at the site. A woman says she is looking for news of her father, they have tried every hospital, but there is no trace. A small boy has been taken alive from the wreckage, as has his mother.

Distraught parents are easy to spot. You recognise them as the men and women who look ready to tear off their clothes, skin, hair as they eye their chance to rush the cordon, race to the wreckage to reclaim their sons and daughters, who, miraculously, are all alive.

And if they are not, then each of them has the unspoken plan to swap their own pounding hearts for the silent hearts of their children. For every parent in such a situation, it is the only and perfect plan.

Irish Independent

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