A high-speed passenger train in Spain carrying 218 people, many of whom were coming to the nearby shrine of Santiago de Compostela to celebrate the feast of St. James, derailed, killing 77 and injuring at least 140.
The Daily Mail is reporting that passengers heard a loud bang just before the train hit a concrete wall and flipped off the tracks, sending railcars sliding sideways down the tracks where they broke apart.
The driver, who survived the crash, said he was going 120 mph when he headed into the fatal curve on the track, a section where trains are only supposed to travel at 50 mph.
Witnesses say one of the two drivers of the train, who were trapped in their cab, were heard shouting into a phone: “I’ve derailed! What do I do?”
Others also heard one of the men cry: “We’re only human! We’re only human! I hope there are no dead, because this will fall on my conscience.”
As the wreckage came to rest, it quickly became obvious that this was one of the worst train accidents in 30 years in Spain. When emergency personnel and local citizens arrived on the scene, the tracks were littered with bodies and the seriously injured. Others were walking around, dazed and bloodied.
Emergency crews got to work rescuing people who were trapped inside the twisted cars, climbing through broken windows to reach the injured and the dead.
Casualties were transported to nearby hospitals in Santiago and two other cities while authorities put out an emergency appeal for blood.
Neighbors responded by bringing blankets and sheets to the scene along with bottles of water.
When darkness fell, crews erected generators and emergency lighting in order to keep working.
Alberto Nunez Feijoo, president of the region of Galicia, described the scene as ‘Dante-esque’.
One passenger, Ricardo Montero, said: “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.”
Lidia Cannon, who was visiting Santiago for the feast of St. James, told the BBC that she heard a loud bang just before the train derailed. “I thought it was a car crash, other people thought it was a bomb. It was very, very loud, the noise.”
As of this time, authorities do no suspect terrorism, but a video taken of the crash does show a large puff of smoke coming out from under the train just as it derails from the tracks.
Officials said they believed the crash was an accident but declined to offer more details, saying an investigation was under way into the cause.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was born in Santiago de Compostela, has declared three days of official mourning for the victims of the disaster.
Officials of Santiago had been preparing for the internationally celebrated Catholic festival dedicated to veneration of relics believed to be those of St. James the apostle. Popular legend has it that St. James was buried in Santiago after being beheaded by King Agrippa in Jerusalem. His body was said to have been taken up by angels and transported to Iberia where it was eventually buried at Compostela. In 1884, Pope Leo XIII issued a bull accepting the authenticity of the relics at Compostela, but the Vatican remains uncommitted as to whether or not the relics housed there belong to St. James. However, the Church continues to promote pilgrimages to the site.
After the horrific train crash, officials cancelled all festivities at the Cathedral at Compostela.
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