BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – A train packed with morning commuters slammed into a downtown station on Wednesday, killing 49 people and injuring hundreds as passenger cars crumpled and windows exploded around them. It was Argentina’s worst train accident in decades.
The cause wasn’t immediately determined, but many pointed to a deteriorating rail system. Some passengers reported signs the conductor was struggling with the brakes before the crash, saying he kept overshooting platforms and missed one entirely.
The dead included 48 adults and one child – most of whom had crowded into the first two cars to get ahead of the rush-hour crowds on arrival. Some 600 people were injured, including 461 who were hospitalized.
Hours after the crash, passengers’ relatives gathered at the morgue anxious for word of their loved ones.
Ezekiel Mercado said he and his mother-in-law had been frantically searching for his wife, Sabrina Espindola, 29, who didn’t show up for work Wednesday. They checked nine hospitals before heading to the morgue, he said.
“I went everywhere. She is always with her Blackberry. We are always in contact,” he said. “This morgue is the last place I thought of, but, well, she’s missing. I call her cellphone, and it rings, rings, but she isn’t responding.”
Speaking at a news conference, Transportation Secretary J.P. Schiavi defended the rail system’s maintenance record.
“It was an accident like those in many other countries,” he said. “In recent years, we’ve made huge investments” in the system.
As Schiavi spoke, riot police faced off against angry passengers in the closed Once station, where emergency workers spent hours extracting dozens of people trapped inside the train’s first car. Rescuers had to slice open the roof and set up a pulley system to ease them out one by one.
Schiavi said the train was recorded slowing from about 30 miles per hour to 12 miles per hour about 40 yards before the impact. “We don’t know what happened in those final 40 meters,” he said.