Dozens die as Spanish train derails in Galicia
A train has derailed in north-western Spain, killing at least 77 of its 218 passengers and injuring more than 100, officials in the Galicia region say.
All eight carriages of the Madrid to Ferrol train came off the tracks near the city of Santiago de Compostela.
Media reports say the train may have been travelling at more than twice the speed limit around a curve.
Officials have not commented on the cause. Analysts say it is the worst train accident in Spain in 40 years.
Spain generally has a relatively good record in terms of rail safety, says the BBC's Tom Burridge.
This is a country which has invested huge amounts of money in its rail network, he says.
Spain's last major rail disaster was in 1972 when 77 people were killed in a derailment in Andalusia in the south.'A Dante-esque scene'
Here you really get an impression of the destruction, and the chaos. The front of the train, which was heading from Madrid in the direction of Santiago de Compostela, is just below me.
Off the track at the base of the grass verge, the carriages randomly dumped in a sort of large gully. Further up, I can see a couple of carriages that are nothing short of gutted. Even though the side and the end have been stripped off, it's hard to see into the carriage. It's a mess of cables and debris.
There are scores of people injured in local hospitals, and some of them critically. We saw some bosses from the national railway company on the flight up from Madrid this morning. They made no comment on the investigation. They told me the priority now was the victims.
Railway firm Renfe said the train came off the tracks on a bend about 3 or 4km (2-2.5 miles) from Santiago de Compostela station at 20:41 local time (18:41 GMT).
It was on the express route between Madrid and the ship-building city of Ferrol on the Galician coast.
Renfe says it and the track operating company Adif are collaborating with a judge appointed to investigate the accident.
Government officials said they believed the crash was an accident, but that no statement would be made regarding the cause without a proper investigation.
"We are moving away from the hypothesis of sabotage or attack," one unnamed official said.
Rescue workers have continued to search for survivors in the wreckage.Continue reading the main story
They have so far recovered 73 bodies from the accident site, while four more people died in hospital, a spokeswoman for Galicia's supreme court said on Thursday. Judges are responsible for registering deaths in Spain.
It is not known how many Renfe employees were on board the train.
Santiago de Compostela
- One of the most important Christian pilgrimage sites in Europe
- El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St James) pilgrimage route has been followed by Christians since the Middle Ages
- The remains of St James, one of Jesus' 12 disciples and the patron saint of Galicia, are said to rest in the city
Images from the site showed bodies covered with blankets next to the tracks, as emergency crews searched the wreckage.
More than 140 passengers were receiving treatment for a range of light to more serious injuries, a health official told reporters on Thursday morning.
Residents flocked to hospitals in the area to donate blood in response to an appeal.
Meanwhile, 320 Spanish police officers were deployed to help out the rescue operation.
The leader of the regional government Alberto Nunez Feijoo described it as "a Dante-esque scene", in comments to Radio Cadena Ser.
One witness, Ricardo Montesco, described how the train carriages "piled on top of one another" after the train hit a curve.
"A lot of people were squashed on the bottom. We tried to squeeze out of the bottom of the wagons to get out and we realised the train was burning...I was in the second wagon and there was fire. I saw corpses," he told Spanish Cadena Ser radio station.
Several eyewitnesses described the train travelling very fast before it derailed.
Spanish train crashes
- August 2006: Inter-city train derails in Villada, in the province of Palencia, killing six people and injuring dozens more.
- July 2006: At least 43 people killed in a metro train crash in the eastern Spanish city of Valencia.
- June 2003: At least 19 people killed and some 40 injured in a head-on train collision near Chinchilla in Albacete province.
- March 2002: Two express trains collide outside Tarragona, in Catalonia, killing four people and injuring more than 80.
The derailment happened on the eve of Santiago de Compostela's main annual festival where thousands of Christian pilgrims were expected to flock to the city in honour of Saint James.
The city's tourism board said all festivities planned for Thursday have been cancelled.
Local journalist Francisco Camino said the region was in shock.
"This is a tiny place and nothing happens here, nothing important or tragic," he told the BBC.
"We were preparing for the celebrations and now this could turn out to be the worst train crash in many years.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was born in Santiago de Compostela, convened an emergency ministerial meeting late on Wednesday. He is due to visit the scene of the accident on Thursday.
"I want to express my affection and solidarity with the victims of the terrible train accident in Santiago," Mr Rajoy said.