Maputo, 26 May (AIM) - The Mozambican government, meeting in emergency session on Saturday, has decreed three days of national mourning, following the worst rail disaster in the country's history.
The death toll, announced by Transport Minister Tomas Salomao, stands at 192.
The crash took place at about 05.00 on Saturday morning at Tenga, in Moamba district, about 40 kilometres northwest of Maputo.
The total number of injured is 167. Those whose injuries were relatively minor have already left hospital. 106 people remain hospitalised, five of them in a critical condition, and the authorities have issued appeals for all medical staff, including retired doctors and nurses, to assist, and for citizens to donate blood.
A large queue did build up at the Maputo Central Hospital blood bank on Saturday afternoon, while a mobile blood bank toured the outlying suburbs. "The most important thing right now is to save lives", Salomao told reporters. "We have to persuade people to give blood".
President Joaquim Chissano was at his home village of Maleice in Gaza province, attending a family ceremony, when he heard of the disaster. He immediately returned to Maputo, and visited the injured in Maputo central hospital.
On Sunday morning President Chissano visited the crash site. So did Interior Minister Almerino Manhenje, accompanied by several high ranking police officers. Specialists were gathering evidence in an attempt to understand precisely how it was that carriages full of people could smash into stationary wagons loaded with cement.
Manhenje told reporters that the police are working with the rail company, CFM, to assess the causes of the disaster. He declined to speculate on what may have happened.
According to Salomao, the task of removing the bodies was complete by 20.00 on Saturday night. Railway workers have been clearing the wreckage from the tracks, so that the line can be reopened to traffic as soon as possible.
Teams from the police, the armed forces, the fire brigade, and the Mozambican Red Cross were involved in the rescue work.
Their task was gruesome, since some of the bodies had been sliced apart in the impact, and severed arms and legs were pulled from the wreckage.
As night closed in, a generator was rigged up, to provide light so that the work could continue.
The exact causes of the crash are unknown, and a commission of inquiry has been set up.
But reports from eye witnesses suggest that a manoeuvre by the crew went badly wrong. The passenger carriages, containing about 600 people, and several wagons, each containing 40 tonnes of South African cement, were part of the same train. Just outside Tenga, the passenger carriages became decoupled from the rest of the train.
The locomotive and the wagons continued into Tenga station.
Apparently the crew intended to reverse and pick up the carriages.
But the carriages were on an incline, and rolled down the five kilometres into Tenga, picking up speed. They smashed into the back of the cement wagons that were motionless in the station. The worst casualties were in the first two carriages, which bore the brunt of the violent impact against the wagons.
CFM pledges support for victims
The publicly owned port and rail company, CFM, has pledged support for the injured and for the families of those who died.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday at the crash site, Rui Fonseca, chairman of the CFM board, said the company "is using its own resources to assist the families to mitigate the impact of this tragic accident, given the disastrous consequences it has had on our human and social fabric".
He said that, in coordination with the health services, CFM is giving full support to the 106 passengers who are still hospitalised. "We are giving all the support we can to the hospital and the patients in order to save the maximum possible number of lives", he said.
As for families who had lost their breadwinner in the crash, Fonseca said that CFM could step in to pay for the children's education.
Asked about compensation, Fonseca said this should not be posed in terms of paying for lives lost "since human life has no price", but in supporting the families.
Fonseca declined to comment on the causes of the accident. "I would not like to make any declaration at first sight", he said. "Everything indicates human error, but I don't want to point a finger of blame at anyone".
Transport Minister Tomas Salomao said that efforts are now under way to obtain
assistance from foreign rail experts to support the investigations into the
crash being undertaken by CFM and the police.
The crash took place at Tenga, in Moamba district, some 40 kilmetres north
west of Maputo. Hundreds of injured people were taken back to Maputo in another
train, and ambulances ferried them to Maputo Central Hospital.
According to the hospital, around 400 injured people have arrived there. At
least two of the injured have died in hospital. Transport Minister Tomas Salomao
travelled to Tenga, and told Radio Mozambique that there are still bodies trapped
in the wreckage: thus the death toll could rise further.
He said that the first indications are that the crash was caused by "human
Antonio Libombo, an official from the port and railway company, CFM, said there
had been a collision between a goods train and a passenger train.
But one passenger, Maria Nuvunga, interviewed by AIM, said the locomotive of
the passenger train had become decoupled from the carriages, which then rolled
back down the line, and smashed
into a stationary train at Tenga station.
Nuvunga said the tragedy occurred before dawn, at about 05.00.
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