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150 Feared Dead in Head-on Train Crash in Portugal

September 12, 1985|From Times Wire Services

VISEU, Portugal — More than 150 people were feared killed in the fiery head-on crash of two trains in northern Portugal on Wednesday night, fire department officials said.

Some rescuers said the death toll could reach 300. Police and hospitals reported at least 150 injured.

Portugal decreed three days of mourning, and Prime Minister Mario Soares, who left Lisbon for the crash scene with key ministers, said a rigorous inquiry had been ordered into what appeared to be Portugal's worst-ever rail disaster.

Firefighters at the scene said that three cars of one train were completely burned out after the crash and that no one in them had survived.

Officials said most of the casualties were among 350 passengers on an express bound from Oporto to France, mainly Portuguese migrant workers returning to France after vacation. Foreign tourists were also reported aboard, but their nationalities were not known. One of the survivors, Duarte Correia, said he helped two German tourists escape from the wreckage.

"It was horrible," he told reporters. "I saw people burning alive, screaming and leaping from windows. But in some carriages I do not know if any got out."

The accident happened when the express collided with a local train running between the Portuguese towns of Guarda and Coimbra. According to one report, the express was behind schedule and hit the local before the other train had time to move onto a siding.

The world's worst rail accident was the June, 1981, disaster in India's Bihar state in which about 800 people were killed.

Last January, 428 people were killed and more than 400 were injured when a train plunged into a gorge in Ethiopia.

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