SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain (AP) — Relatives of victims from a train crash in northwestern Spain sobbed and hugged each other Friday near a makeshift morgue in a sports arena for the victims as the death toll rose to 78 and investigators tried to determine the cause.
The train jumped the tracks and at least one passenger told a radio station that it appeared to be going very fast as it went into a pronounced curve while approaching the station in this Catholic shrine city on the eve of a major religious festival.
Seventy-three people were found dead at the scene of the accident and four died in hospitals, said Maria Pardo Rios, spokeswoman for the Galicia region’s main court. Another person also died, bringing the toll to 78, but no information was immediately available on where, said an Interior Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of ministry policy.
At least 141 people were injured — some critically — after the eight-carriage train carrying 218 passengers derailed about an hour before sunset Wednesday night.
Authorities did not identify any possible accident causes, but a spokeswoman with Spain’s Interior Ministry said Thursday that the possibility that the derailment was caused by a terrorist attack had been ruled out. She also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ministry policy.
It was Spain’s deadliest train accident since 1972, when a train collided with a bus in southwestern Spain, killing 86 people and injuring 112. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was born in Santiago de Compostela, toured the crash scene Thursday with rescue workers and then went to a hospital to visit injured passengers.
A grim Rajoy told reporters that “for a native of Santiago, like me, this is the saddest day.” He said investigations had been launched by judicial authorities and the Public Works Ministry to determine the cause as quickly as possible but declined to take questions from reporters.
Officials in the city canceled ceremonies for its annual religious festival that attracts tens of thousands of Christians from around the world.
“July 24 will no longer be the eve of a day of celebration but rather one commemorating one of the saddest days in the history of Galicia,” said Alberto Nunez Feijoo, president of the region of Galicia where Santiago de Compostela is the capital.
Rescue workers spent the night searching through smashed cars alongside the tracks, and Pardo said it was possible that the death toll could go higher. Many of the dead were taken to a makeshift morgue set up in the city’s largest indoor sports arena, where police and court officials were identifying the bodies. Relatives of victims sobbed and hugged each other outside at a nearby information point for families seeking news about their missing loved ones.
A regional Galicia health official, Rocio Mosquera, told reporters at a press conference early Thursday that 141 passengers from the train had been treated at area hospitals, with their conditions ranging from light injuries to serious. Some were still in surgery hours after the crash, while others had been treated and released.
As dawn arrived, cranes brought to the scene were used to lift the cars off the tracks and rescue workers were seen collecting passenger luggage and putting it into a truck next to the tracks.
The site itself was a scene of horror immediately after the crash. Smoke billowed from at least one car which caught fire; another broke into two parts. Residents of the urban neighborhood alongside the tracks struggled to help victims out of the toppled cars.
Rescue workers lined up bodies covered in blankets alongside the tracks and some passengers were pulled out of broken windows. Television images showed one man atop a carriage lying on its side, using a pickaxe to try to smash through a window. Residents said other rescuers used rocks.