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El correo Gallego/Antonio Hernandez/AP/Press Association Images

77 dead, 143 injured in rail crash - "no indications" any Irish citizens were on board

Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore says the situation is “still developing”, but that there are no reports of any Irish citizens caught up in the tragedy.

THE SEARCH AND recovery operation is continuing today in the wake of last night’s horrific rail tragedy in northwest Spain.

At least 77 passengers were killed and 143 injured in the crash, an official said this morning.

It happened at 7:42pm (Irish time) as the train carrying 218 passengers and four staff was about to enter Santiago de Compostela station in the region of Galicia.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said there were “no indications” of Irish citizens being caught up in the disaster, though he noted that the situation was still developing and it would be “some time before all of those involved have been identified”. He added:

The Galician region and the city of Santiago is a popular destination for Irish travellers and the Irish Embassy in Madrid has been in contact with the regional authorities since the accident occured.

I would ask any family who are concerned for loved ones they believe may have been travelling on the train to contact my Department at 01-4082000.

Last night’s crash is Spain’s deadliest rail disaster in more than 40 years. Four carriages overturned in the smash – smoke billowing from the wreckage in the aftermath, as bodies were lain out under blankets along the tracks.

The carriages piled into each other and folded up like an accordion. One was ripped apart by the force of the crash, one of its ends pushed up into the air.

(Image: Lalo Villar/AP/Press Association Images)

Several witnesses spoke of a loud explosion.

“I was at home and I heard something like a clap of thunder, It was very loud and there was lots of smoke,” said 62-year-old Maria Teresa Ramos, who lived just metres from where the accident happened.

“It’s a disaster, people are crying out. Nobody has ever seen anything like this,” she added.

Her neighbour Martin Rozas, 39, helped pull the wounded from the wreckage and laid blankets over the dead. “It was like an earthquake,” he said.

(Image: Lalo Villar/AP/Press Association Images)

Rescue workers recovered 73 bodies from the train’s wreckage and four more victims died later in hospital, a spokesman for the Galicia high court said this morning, increasing an earlier toll figure.

A total of 143 people were said to have various injuries.

Francisco Otero, 39, who was inside his parents’ home just beside the section of the track where the accident happened, said he “heard a huge bang”.

“The first thing I saw was the body of a woman. I had never seen a corpse before. But above all what caught my attention was that there was a lot of silence, some smoke and a small fire,” he told AFP.

“My neighbours tried to pull out people who were trapped inside the carriages with the help of pickaxes and sledgehammers and they eventually got them out with a hand saw. It was unreal.”

(Image: Salome Montes/AP/Press Association Images)

The train had left Madrid and was heading for the ship-building coastal town of Ferrol as the Galicia region was preparing celebrations in honour of its patron saint James.

A witness told radio Cadena Ser that carriages overturned several times on a bend and came to a halt piled up on each other.

Several media outlets said the train derailed because it was speeding at the time of the accident but a spokesman for state railway company Renfe said it was too soon to say what caused the accident.

“There is an investigation underway and we have to wait. We will know what the speed is very soon when we consult the train’s black box,” a Renfe spokesman said.

The conductor became trapped in one of the carriages and he told the station in Santiago de Compostela by radio that he took the bend at 190 kilometres per hour in an urban zone with a speed limit of 80 kph, daily El Pais reported.

“I was going at 190! I hope no one died because it will weigh on my conscience,” he said, according to the online edition of the newspaper which cited unidentified investigation sources.

The accident happened on a stretch of high-speed track about four kilometres from the main train station in Santiago de Compostela, the destination of the famous El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage which has been followed by Christians since the Middle Ages.

The train was the Alvia model which is able to adapt between high-speed and normal tracks.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is from Santiago de Compostela, is to visit the scene of the accident later today.

“I want to express my affection and solidarity with the victims of the terrible train accident in Santiago,” he said in a Twitter message.

Pope Francis called for prayers for the victims.

The town hall of Santiago de Compostela called off concerts and firework displays that had been planned as part of the festivities in honour of its patron saint.

- additional reporting by AFP

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