A Spanish train that hurtled off the rails and smashed into a security wall as it rounded a bend was going so fast that carriages tumbled off the tracks like dominos, according to eyewitness accounts and video footage obtained Thursday.
The official death toll from Wednesday night's crash near this Christian festival city in northwest Spain rose to 78 in Spain's deadliest wreck in four decades.
- Train derailment in Spain
- Recent deadly train derailments in Europe
Hospital officials said 141 people were injured, and 36 remained in critical condition Thursday, among them four children.
The train driver was under formal police investigation, a spokeswoman for Galicia's Supreme Court told Reuters, without naming him. The train had two drivers and one was in hospital, the Galicia government said.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was born in Santiago de Compostela, toured the crash scene alongside rescue workers and went to a nearby hospital to visit some of the wounded and their families.
"For a native of Santiago, like me, this is the saddest day," Rajoy said. He said judicial authorities and the Public Works Ministry had launched parallel investigations into what caused the crash.
Eyewitness accounts backed by security-camera footage of the moment of disaster suggested that the eight-carriage train carrying 218 passengers was going too fast as it tried to turn left underneath a road bridge. The speed limit on that section of track is 80 kilometres per hour, Spanish officials said.
The footage, which the Spanish railway authority Adif said probably came from one of its cameras, shows the train carriages start to buckle soon into the turn, with the first and second passenger carriages leaving the tracks first. The engine itself quickly follows, violently tipping on to its right side as it crashes into a concrete security wall and bulldozes its way along the ground.
In the background, all the rear carriages can be seen starting to decouple and come off the tracks. The picture goes blank as the engine appears to crash directly into the camera.
"I saw the train coming out of the bend at great speed and then there was a big noise," one eyewitness, Consuelo Domingues, told The Associated Press. "... Then everybody tried to get out of the train."
95 people remain hospitalized
Santiago officials, who had been preparing for the city's annual Catholic festival Thursday, cancelled it and took control of the main sports stadium to use as a makeshift morgue. There, relatives of many of the dead could be seen sobbing and embracing each other.
Maria Pardo Rios, spokeswoman for the Galicia region's main court, said 73 people died at the scene, four others after they were taken to hospitals. The Interior Ministry later confirmed a 78th death.
A regional Galicia health official, Rocio Mosquera, told reporters Thursday afternoon that 95 people remained hospitalized, among them 36 in critical condition, including four children.
The Interior Ministry, responsible for law and order, ruled out terrorism as a cause.
It was Spain's deadliest train accident since 1972, when a train collided with a bus in southwest Spain, killing 86 people and injuring 112.
"July 24 will no longer be the eve of a day of celebration but rather one commemorating one of the saddest days in the history of Galicia," said Alberto Nunez Feijoo, regional president of Galicia. Santiago de Compostela is its capital.
The accident created a scene that was "Dante-esque," Feijoo said. He declared seven days of mourning for the victims.
Rescue workers spent the night searching through smashed carriages alongside the tracks.
As dawn broke, cranes brought to the scene were used to lift the carriages off the tracks. Rescue workers collected passengers' scattered luggage and loaded it into a truck next to the tracks.
1 car on fire; another torn into 2 parts
Rescuers described a scene of horror immediately after the crash. Smoke billowed from at least one carriage that had caught fire, while another had been torn into two parts.
Residents of the residential neighbourhood closest to the rail line struggled to help victims out of the toppled cars. 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. Other rescuers used rocks to try to free survivors from the fiery wreckage.
Nearby, rescue workers lined up bodies covered in blankets alongside the tracks.
State-owned train operator Renfe said it couldn't confirm how many staff were on board the train. It said the crash happened at 8.41 p.m. local time, about four kilometres south of Santiago de Compostela.
Spanish media said the train had two drivers aboard and both survived.
Renfe said it and Adif, another state-owned company that manages tracks, signals and other railway infrastructure, were co-operating with a judge appointed to investigate the accident.
It was the world's third major rail accident this month.
On July 6, 72 cars carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Que., setting off explosions and fires that killed 47 people.
On July 12, six people were killed and nearly 200 were injured when four cars of a passenger train derailed south of Paris.
'Many people trapped below'
Catholic pilgrims converge on Santiago de Compostela annually to celebrate a festival honouring St. James, a disciple of Jesus whose remains are said to rest in a shrine. The city is the main gathering point for those who reach the end of the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route that has drawn Christians since the Middle Ages.
Several injured passengers said they felt a strong vibration just before the cars jumped the tracks, according to Xabier Martinez, a photographer who talked with them after arriving at the scene as rescue workers were still removing bodies.
One 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, told Cadena Ser 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," Prego said.
With files from Reuters
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