December was a horrible a horrible month for Kenyans with many accidents occurring. We lost more than 250 people in that month alone. It has even made our own government come up with hasty and ill-thought changes to deal with the problem. But as this next story illustrates, even South Africa, the most developed African country, these sad incidents do happen.
Yesterday, a passenger train travelling from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg collided with a truck at a level crossing, igniting an inferno. Flames ripped through the twisted wreckage and choking black smoke rose into the air as passengers clambered out of the train to escape the inferno on Thursday.
Tiaan Esterhuizen, who had been travelling on the train as he returned from holiday, said he tried to rescue three women who were trapped in a burning carriage. He told the Times LIVE news site:
“I saw around 12 cars on their side and one was already burning. We heard some women screaming when we came closer so a few of us climbed over the cars. Two of the women were sort of on top of each other. Another was further back. Her legs were trapped. One of the women was shouting that there was a baby inside also. We searched but could not find the child … I am quite sure those women burned to death.”
It said in a statement that the truck had made an “untimely” crossing of the tracks when it was hit by the train at high speed.
One of the derailed carriages was the power generator – the car behind the locomotive that powers the rest of the train. The car caught fire and flames spread rapidly. Shosholoza Meyl, the Transport minister said there were 429 passengers onboard.
Mthuthuzeli Swartz, the acting chief executive of the Passenger Rail Agency, confirmed that 18 people had been killed and 254 injured. He said it would be “tragic and unexpected” for the death toll to increase further. He told the AFP:
“The pathologists who are here have given us the assurance they are convinced that the number of dead, 18, will be the final number.”
Some of the wounded were treated on a strip of grass beside the railway line, while others were taken to hospital. Uninjured passengers waited on a nearby road, some of them carrying their luggage.