Carnage at Spanish station as party-goers are hit by high-speed train

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The last thing they heard was the piercing whistle of an oncoming train. Moments later, dozens of mostly Latin American immigrants who crossed the tracks instead of using an underpass to reach a beach party in the seaside resort of Castelldefels were dead or injured, their body parts strewn across the rails.

The express train that sped through the station in northeastern Spain ploughed into a group of young men and women that included Ecuadoreans, Chileans, Colombians and Bolivians – leaving 12 people dead, injuring 14 and turning a night of summer solstice celebration into carnage.

Spain's deadliest train accident since 2003 took place during a nationwide ritual on the longest day of the year called Noche de San Juan, or the night of St John, when the blazing Spanish sun sets at 9.30pm.

The crowd got off a commuter train in Castelldefels, a 20-minute train ride outside of Barcelona, shortly before midnight Wednesday. Many jammed an underpass leading to the beach, but about 30 others climbed down from the platform and tried to scurry across the tracks, witnesses said. Seconds later, a long-distance train crashed into the youths at high speed as its driver sounded the whistle.

Marcelo Cardona, who was on the commuter train, said everyone aboard had been looking forward to dancing around a bonfire on the Mediterranean shore. "The euphoria of getting off the train immediately became screams. There were people screaming, 'My daughter! My sister!'," said the 34-year-old Bolivian. He said he saw "mutilated people, blood everywhere, blood on the platform".

Most of the victims were Latin American immigrants, said Andres Cuantero, head of a team of psychologists sent to counsel grieving relatives. Ecuador's consul for Barcelona, Freddy Arellano Ruiz, told reporters there were victims from his country, and from Bolivia, Chile and Colombia. Spanish news agency Europa Press reported that the train was doing 87mph and the driver tested negative for alcohol and was in shock.

The Noche de San Juan celebration takes place across Spain but with particular zeal in Catalonia. People light bonfires in town squares and on beaches, dance around them, drink beer, barbecue food and set off fireworks.

Felipe Elmaji, a 29-year-old Moroccan traveling with Mr Cardona, said he heard a "thump, thump of the train hitting people". Mr Cardona's sister Candy recalled the train's whistle as it tried to warn people to get out of the way. "It was horrible. I can't get that sound out of my head," she said.

Mr Cardona said the underpass was jammed with the overflowing crowd from the train. Mayor Joan Sau blamed recklessness for the deaths. "If the underpass had been used, we would probably not be talking about this tragedy right now," he said.

Except for one woman in her 40s, all of the injured were 19 or younger and two are minors, said Marta Joves, spokeswoman for the Catalonia government's civil protection department. Of the 14 injured, one is in extremely critical condition, two are in critical condition and four have been treated and released, she said.