6 dead, 22 hurt in French train crash; rescue efforts continue
BRETIGNY-SUR-ORGE, France — At least six people were killed and 22 seriously injured when a packed French train crashed into a station about 25 miles south of Paris on Friday, coming just as trains were full of people leaving the capital to start holidays.
Rescue operations were still underway after night fell, more than five hours after the crash. Bernard Decaux, the mayor of Bretigny-sur-Orge, where the crash occurred, said there was a slight risk there could still be more dead under one of the carriages.
French President Francois Hollande, who rushed to the scene of the crash, confirmed the known count of those dead and injured so far and said Bastille Day — July 14 — would this year be a day of mourning as France mourns a “catastrophe.”
It was the worst French train accident since 1988, when 56 people died in Gare de Lyon station in Paris.
Hollande promised three separate investigations into the accident: one by police, one by the Transport Ministry and one by the national rail authority, SNCF.
He said the train’s route, from Paris to Limoges, was one “I’ve taken very often in my life. We must learn the whole truth.”
Hollande said all the seriously injured had been evacuated.
Streets around the train station were blocked off and full of ambulances and police vans, with SNCF staff helping stranded passengers with their baggage through the streets. Many survivors had called family members to come and get them.
Decaux spoke of 227 people affected by the crash, which included anyone who had received any kind of medical or psychological care.
One witness, Assanne, 22, was in the train station’s bar when the crash occurred.
“There was a huge bang. It shook the bar and sent plates crashing to the ground,” he told dpa. “One woman was thrown 5 meters. She was injured in the neck.”
Assanne, who had been waiting for another train to Limoges — the station was not a scheduled stop for the derailed train — had a long scratch on his forearm. He said he was knocked to the ground by the impact.
“There was mangled wreckage and gravel flying everywhere.”
A survivor who was in the train called it a “miracle” that the car in which he was riding stayed upright when others derailed.
“I was half asleep when the train suddenly became unstable. People started to panic. It felt like the train had hit gravel. Our carriage remained upright. No one in our carriage was seriously injured,” the passenger, who identified himself as Cedric, 17, told reporters.
He said he was in the second carriage from the front and that carriages in front and back were derailed: “It’s a miracle really that my carriage escaped.”
He said bystanders began to help immediately at the scene.
“People who had been waiting for other trains came running from the platform to help. They broke the windows of the carriage with bars and helped evacuate people and bags.”
Witnesses told French media the train entered Bretigny-sur-Orge station at high speed and that part of the train mounted the platform.
Another survivor told BFM-TV that passengers experienced multiple shocks and impacts before the train crashed.
“We were violently shaken. We were clinging to our seats. It must have lasted 15 seconds,” the passenger said, also noting the train was full of smoke.
The passenger denied reports that the train had been moving at excessive speeds.
SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy said the reason for the accident, which took place at about 5:15 p.m. local time, was still unknown. The agency was expected to issue a statement soon.
He said four cars from the front of the train had derailed. “One is lying off the track.”
An emotional Pepy spoke to reporters of a “rail disaster.” He said the train was carrying about 370 passengers.
The accident struck a station that serves both commuter and long-distance trains, forcing officials to reroute a variety of trains and adding to traffic chaos at the start of the holidays.
Officials had also set up a hotline for family members worried about people who might have been on the train.
Photographs posted on Twitter showed part of the train lying on its side and the overhang of a platform badly damaged.
©2013 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany)
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Train derails onto busy platform near Paris
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