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Death toll at 77 as Spanish train leaps off the tracks

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THE death toll from the horrific train crash in Spain has risen to 77 – and could rise further.

The train jumped the tracks on a curve just before arriving in the north-western shrine city of Santiago de Compostela last night, officials said.

Seventy three people were found dead at the scene and four died in hospitals, said Maria Pardo Rios, spokeswoman for the Galicia region.

At least 141 people were injured after the eight-carriage train carrying 218 passengers derailed about an hour before sunset last night.

Some reports claimed the train was travelling too fast for the section of track it was on.

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

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was heading to the scene today.

He was born in Santiago de Compostela, where officials cancelled ceremonies for its annual religious festival that attracts tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world.

Rescue workers spent the night searching through toppled and smashed cars alongside the tracks at the crash site, and Ms Pardo said it was possible that the death toll could go higher.

As dawn arrived, cranes brought to the scene were used to lift the cars off the tracks and rescue workers were seen collecting passenger luggage and putting it into the back of a truck next to the tracks. The site itself was a scene of horror, with at least one car catching fire and smoke billowing from the scene and another broke into two parts as residents of the urban neighbourhood alongside the tracks tried to help victims escape.

Rescue workers lined up bodies covered in blankets alongside the tracks and some passengers were pulled out of broken windows.

Television 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 an unspecified number of staff were also on board the train during the 8.41pm crash on a section of tracks about 2.5miles (4km) from Santiago de Compostela that came online two years ago.

Shrine

Spanish government officials declined to comment on possible causes, but said it appeared to be an accident and that there were no suspicions of terrorism.

Catholic pilgrims converge on the Santiago de Compostela annually to celebrate a festival honouring St James, the disciple of Jesus whose remains are said to rest in a shrine.

The city is the main gathering point for the faithful who make it to the end of the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route that has drawn Christians since the Middle Ages.

But the accident created a scene that was "Dante-esque," said Alberto Nunez Feijoo, president of Galicia.

Several injured passengers said they felt a strong vibration just before the train's cars jumped the tracks, said Xabier Martinez, a photographer who talked to them after arriving at the scene as rescue workers were removing dozens of bodies.

Passenger Ricardo Montero told the Cadena Ser radio station that "when the train reached that bend it began to flip over, many times, with some carriages ending up on top of others, leaving many people trapped below. We had to get under the carriages to get out."

Another passenger, Sergio Prego, said the train "travelled very fast" just before it derailed and the cars flipped upside down, on their sides and into the air.

"I've been very lucky because I'm one of the few able to walk out," he said.

The train had started from Madrid and was scheduled to end its journey at El Ferrol, about 60 miles (95km) north of Santiago de Compostela.

hnews@herald.ie


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