Many dead, injured in Montenegro train disaster

Thirty-nine people were killed and 135 injured when a packed passenger train derailed on Monday in one of the worst accidents to date in the tiny Balkan state of Montenegro, officials said.

“This is not a final toll,” warned Deputy Prime Minister Miroslav Ivanisevic after an emergency session of the government.

Among the injured were 75 children, Ivanisevic said, adding that the government “will use all possible means to investigate the accident”.

Earlier, Montenegrin state television reported that 30 people had been killed when the train travelling from the northern town of Bijelo Polje to the capital, Podgorica, derailed and rolled 30m down a ravine at about 5pm local time.

Montenegrin Interior Minister Jusuf Kalamperovic said brake failure is the suspected cause of the crash and announced a “thorough investigation” will be conducted into the accident.

The carriages plunged into a canyon of the River Moraca, about 15km north of Podogorica, probably due to brake failure, Kaloperovic said.

Witnesses said about 300 people were on the train, among them many children returning from a ski trip in northern Montenegro.

The government of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic held an emergency session to discuss the accident, proclaiming a three-day official mourning for the victims.

Transport Minister Andrija Lompar resigned at the session, saying the “biggest accident ever is such enormous stain on his career”.

“This is my personal decision,” Lompar said.

An Agence France-Presse reporter at the scene said police had cordoned off the area in a mountainous region along the River Moraca, as rescue workers struggled to gain access to two of the carriages that plummeted furthest down the cliff.

“The train speeded up when it came out from the tunnel just above Moraca River and then everything was dark around me,” said one of the injured as the paramedics treated his wounds.

Dense forest around the canyon hindered rescuers’ attempts to reach the smashed carriages.

Goran Begovic, chief of the rescue teams, told reporters that emergency units would remain at the site overnight in a bid to find possible victims who had yet to be transported to the hospitals.

A police helicopter was circling the site and providing lighting as emergency response crews battled the terrain, freezing temperatures, strong winds and the growing darkness to reach to wreckage.

Witnesses said many more were feared dead after being trapped in the wrecked compartments. A full search would continue in the morning hours.

“All rescue teams have been engaged and we are doing all we can to save as many lives as possible,” Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said, describing the crash as an “enormous tragedy”.

Dr Milorad Djurovic, chief of the Podgorica emergency centre, said 10 children were among the “first group” of 106 injured brought to the hospital in the capital.

Djurovic appealed for blood donors and called upon those who were not seriously injured to leave the hospital to make room to new patients.

“All injured brought so far have been treated,” hospital officials said.

Hundreds of people gathered in front of the hospital awaiting news on their loved ones, while ambulances and even private cars ferried casualties from the crash site.

Serbian authorities also offered assistance to Montenegro, its junior partner in the loose union that replaced the federal Yugoslavia in 2003, while the state television interrupted its programme after the news of the accident.—AFP

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