Grisly task to pull bodies from wreck of Tanzanian rail disaster

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The Independent Online

Rescuers using a crane struggled to retrieve more victims from crumpled carriages yesterday as officials said the death toll from Tanzania's worst train crash would rise above 200.

Rescuers using a crane struggled to retrieve more victims from crumpled carriages yesterday as officials said the death toll from Tanzania's worst train crash would rise above 200.

Anna Abdalla, the Health Minister, said: "We have received 174 bodies in total and I believe we will get more. We know there will be more than 200 dead."

Asked if there might be survivors in the overturned carriages, she said: "I am afraid not. But miracles happen."

Rescuers painstakingly separated twisted carriages piled on top of one another, with dozens of bodies visibly entangled in the wreckage.

President Benjamin Mkapa toured the crash site, 60 miles from the capital Dodoma. "This is an accident we were powerless to prevent. We mourn the dead. We ask for courage from those who survived," he said.

Panic-stricken relatives of passengers on the train mobbed the entrance to the main hospital in Dodoma for news of loved ones missing since the crash.

Hundreds of people were believed to have been injured but officials said they had no firm number, adding only that they believed as many as 1,000 people had been on board on Monday.

The train was climbing a hill when it suffered a mechanical failure, said Isaac Mwakajila, assistant director-general of the Tanzanian Railway Corporation. It rolled backwards for 12 miles, reaching a speed of 125mph, before crashing into the back of a freight service. All but one of the passenger train's 20 carriages derailed and overturned.

The accident happened near Mpwapwa, south-east of Dodoma, and about 250 miles west of Tanzania's main city and commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. Survivors described how passengers leapt from the speeding train as the driver ran through packed carriages screaming that it was out of control.

Outraged Tanzanians called for an inquiry into the accident. "It's an unmitigated disaster," said Hashim Saggaf, a Dodoma MP. "I've never seen anything like this. It was just terrible." The state-owned Daily News called the crash "a national tragedy that will haunt the country for many years to come".

At the crash site, rescuers searched through scattered personal belongings, pulling photographs and correspondence from bags and wallets to try to identify victims.

Crowds of onlookers stared at the rescue workers carrying way the dead on makeshift stretchers. Rescuers said their efforts were being hampered by the remoteness of the area, a landscape of scrub dotted with rocks, to which there are no paved roads.

Emergency services began laying out dozens of bodies in a sports stadium after the hospital and mortuary were overwhelmed by the number of dead and injured. (Reuters)

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