At least six people died and dozens others were injured when a packed commuter train derailed at a station in the Paris suburb of Brétigny-sur-Orge on Friday evening, in what is France’s deadliest train crash in 25 years.
Six people died and several dozen were injured when a packed commuter train derailed at a station outside of Paris on Friday evening, in what is France’s deadliest train crash in 25 years.
Witnesses said the site of the crash resembled “a war zone”, with one describing walking over a decapitated body to exit a carriage that had been thrown on its side.
Rescuers were searching late Friday for passengers who may still be trapped inside overturned carriages.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls had earlier said that at least seven people had been killed but added that “The death toll is evolving constantly at this point and unfortunately it will probably rise.”
The packed train, en route from Paris to the central city of Limoges, was carrying some 385 passengers when it derailed on Friday evening at 5.15pm and crashed into the station at Brétigny-sur-Orge, 12 miles south of Paris.
A passenger told FRANCE 24: “Everything was fine as the train left Paris, and then we felt a violent shuddering and saw a billowing cloud of white smoke. We realised that the coaches behind us had fallen over and there were many people trapped inside. The train was full. SNCF staff told us that some of the dead had been decapitated.”
Passenger Marc Cheutin, 57, told the AFP news agency he had to “step over a decapitated person” after the accident to exit the carriage he had been travelling in.
“Shortly after departure, just as I was getting into my book, we felt a first shock that shook the carriage I was in…. Then there was a second shock and the carriage lifted up, then a third and a fourth and the carriage went over on its side,” he said.
Another passenger told France’s BFM television that the train was going at a normal speed and was not meant to stop at Brétigny-sur-Orge.
He described children unattended in the chaotic aftermath and said there were swarms of emergency workers at the scene.
The head of the SNCF national railway, Guillaume Pepy, in tears in front of French TV cameras, said that six carriages had derailed during the accident. The train’s third and fourth carriages derailed first and the others followed, he explained.
Pepy described the accident as a “catastrophe” and expressed the rail company’s “solidarity with the victims and their families”.
“We don’t yet know the reasons for this derailment,” Pepy said, adding that investigations would be carried out by the rail service, judicial authorities and France’s BEA safety agency.
Brétigny Mayor Bernard Decaux told French daily Le Parisien that there was chaos at the station.
“Everyone is running in every direction, there is panic,” he said. “It is an apocalyptic scene. We are trying to organise things.”
Hospitals in Paris were on emergency alert to treat serious injuries, including from electrocution. Some 300 firefighters, 20 paramedic teams and eight helicopters were deployed to the area.
Visiting the scene on Friday evening, French President François Hollande said France would be in “mourning” for Sunday’s July 14 Bastille Day national holiday.
“Yes this will be a time for mourning, but it will also be a time for solidarity, for brotherhood,” he said. “This is what the French Republic is about.”
The accident happened as masses of holidaymakers were heading out of Paris for the holiday weekend and for summer vacations.
Travel to and from Paris’s Austerlitz station had been temporarily suspended.