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24 Jan 2006 10:58
Emergency teams resumed searching the wreckage of a four-car passenger train on Tuesday, which derailed and plunged into a river canyon outside the Montenegrin capital, killing at least 44 people and injuring 198, officials said.
The train derailed near Bioce, a village about 15km north-east of Podgorica, shortly after 4pm local time on Monday, as it emerged from a tunnel above the Moraca River, police said. Interior Minister Jusuf Kalomperovic said initial reports indicated the train’s brakes may have failed.
At least 250 passengers, many of them schoolchildren returning from a ski trip, were believed to be on the train when it crashed, in what was among the deadliest European train accidents in 25 years.
Victims cried out for help from the ravine, where four train cars lay smashed.
Darkness in the densely forested area was hampering rescue efforts.
“The train simply went wild, out of control,” said a man as blood poured down his forehead. “I was fine because I was in a back compartment; those in the front got the worst of it.”
Deputy Prime Minister Miroslav Ivanisevic told reporters that the government’s casualty figures stood at 39 killed and 135 wounded, but he warned that the numbers could rise as emergency crews continue to reach victims.
He described the crash “as the worst rail accident in the history of Montenegro”.
Miodrag Djurovic, the head of the main Podgorica hospital, said another five passengers died overnight and that 198 injured people, 90 of them children, were treated in the hospital.
Montenegro’s Transport Minister, Andrija Lompar, resigned because of the accident, Ivanisevic said. A three-day mourning period was announced for the victims.
The train-engine driver was arrested under the suspicion of negligence.
Police, medical workers and volunteers were pulling bodies from the 100m ravine.
Investigative Judge Zoran Radovic said the entire train fell into the ravine and that it was carrying many schoolchildren home from a skiing holiday in the north.
“It was horrible, I saw many dead and wounded around me,” said one passenger from Hungary, Karman Chofu.
The train was en route from the north-eastern town of Bijelo Polje to the Montenegrin coastal city of Bar when it derailed near Podgorica.
“I had fallen asleep when a loud noise woke me,” said Stanislava Bukovic (60), one of the injured passengers, as she was carried away on a stretcher. “Then I felt something hit my head and lost consciousness. The next thing I knew I was on this stretcher.”
Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic visited the scene of the accident and called it a “catastrophe”.
Visiting the Podgorica hospital, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said the emergency crews had “reacted as well as could be expected in such a harsh and inaccessible terrain”.
“We did all we could, but in many cases that was not enough to save those tragically killed,” he said.
Other deadly train accidents in Europe in recent decades included the June 1998 derailment of a high-speed train travelling from Munich to Hamburg, which killed 96 people; and a crash in a dead-end tunnel at Moorgate Underground station in central London that killed 43 in February 1975.—Sapa-AP
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