Wednesday 28 September 2016

'It was a terrible scene, people crying for help'

'Human error' to blame for Italian rail crash as 20 passengers killed

Sarah Ispani

Published 13/07/2016 | 02:30

One of the two passenger trains which collided in the middle of an olive grove in the southern village of Corato, near Bari, Italy. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
One of the two passenger trains which collided in the middle of an olive grove in the southern village of Corato, near Bari, Italy. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
Crumpled wagon cars are seen after the accident. Photo: Italian Firefighter Press Office
A firefighter inspects the site where two passenger trains collided in the southern village of Corato, near Bari, Italy. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
Rescuers carry a body from the scene of the train crash, after two trains collided head-on near Andria, in Puglia. Photo: AP
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 people have been killed and dozens more injured when two trains crashed head on in Italy. As firefighters searched to locate bodies and survivors, it was suggested the crash may have been caused by "human error", according to investigators.

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Massimo Mazzilli, local mayor from the town of Corato, in Puglia, southern Italy, said: "It is a disaster, as if a plane crashed."

A firefighter inspects the site where two passenger trains collided in the southern village of Corato, near Bari, Italy. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
A firefighter inspects the site where two passenger trains collided in the southern village of Corato, near Bari, Italy. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

One of the four-carriage trains was reportedly supposed to have waited at a station for a green light before heading down the single track between the towns of Corato and Andria.

Italy's prime minister Matteo Renzi tweeted his sympathy and pledged a full investigation into the crash.

"Tears and sorrow for the victims and their families, but also so much anger," Mr Renzi said yesterday. "We are demanding clarity about what happened in Puglia this morning."

Mr Renzi later flew to the crash site.

Graziano Delrio, the minister for infrastructure and transport, arrived at the scene having deployed inspectors to join railway police in their investigation.

Rescue workers pulled injured victims from the rubble, including a small child who was alive.

National police and Carabinieri couldn't immediately give details about the extent of the crash, saying they were in the middle of responding.

"I believe there are many dead," said Riccardo Zingaro, captain of the Andria fire brigade.

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

"There was a head-on collision on a single track, several carriages were completely crushed and the emergency workers are pulling people out of the train, there are many injured."

Police said the accident happened on a single stretch of track between the towns of Corato and Andria. An aerial image showed the train carriages were smashed and crumpled, with debris spread out on either side of the track.

"It was the most terrible scene I've seen in my life," said a police officer at the crash site.

"I saw dead people, others who were crying for help."

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

Giuseppe Corrado, the vice-president of the local province, has issued an urgent appeal for blood donations in Andria and Barletta. He added that 20 people have been killed and four "seriously" injured.

Scores of other passengers have been taken to hospital with less severe injuries.

Many passengers are reportedly still trapped inside the train wreck.

Rescue services parked their ambulances and fire trucks among the olive trees and set up a field hospital to treat the injured. The sound of crickets rang out as the first bodies were extracted from the site in metal caskets.

"I dug through the wreckage and managed to save my husband. But I saw people cut to pieces," said an elderly woman standing alongside her husband, whose head was swathed in bandages.

Another survivor said he was thrown to the floor by the impact.

"When I got up, I saw hellish scenes around me," they said.

Kicking up clouds of dust, helicopters landed in a nearby field to pick up the most seriously injured.

Trapped

It was not clear how many people had been on the trains at the time of the collision. By mid-afternoon a crane had arrived at the scene to start lifting the smashed carriages to see whether any bodies were still trapped under the wreckage.

The stretch of track is operated by a small private rail company, Ferrotramviaria.

Italian media said the European Union had earmarked funds to build a second track along the route but that the work had been delayed.

The last major rail disaster in Italy was in 2009, when a freight train derailed in Viareggio and more than 30 people died in the subsequent fire.

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