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Toll Rises to 112 in Mexican Train Wreck; Survivors Recall Horror

August 11, 1989

GUASAVE, Mexico (AP) _ Rescue teams searching along the San Rafael River on Thursday found bodies as far as 14 miles downstream from the site of a rail disaster that killed at least 112 people.

The number of injured reached 205, the government news agency quoted state security coordinator Jose Carlos Saracho as saying, but hospital officials said most victims were treated for minor injuries and released.

Survivors said they fought for life after the 11-car train, carrying about 360 people, plunged off a bridge at 4 a.m. Wednesday morning and fell 25 feet into churning flood waters.

″I had my little girl. Since the car was full and the current came we hit the roof and I could hear her drowning and you could hear that the other people were drowning, too. We were drowning and the windows were closed,″ said Miriam Partida Santos, 17.

″A pregnant woman grabbed me and that was when my girl got away. I don’t know how I escaped, at some point I got up to the top and got air,″ said Mrs. Santos, who was in the Social Security hospital in Guasave.

She and other survivors said the train had been late departing and passengers were told that another train had derailed along the line to the north. Many passengers were asleep on the floor because there were no seats.

The federal Transportation Department said the train plunged off the bridge following torrential rains. The train was bound from the Pacific coastal resort of Mazatlan to Mexicali, on the California border.

A department statement said the area experienced its worst rainstorm in the last 50 years just before the crash. It said two inches of rain in six hours caused a dam to overflow, and the resulting torrent washed out supports for the bridge, which collapsed under the train’s weight.

″Before I realized what happened, it had already crashed,″ said one train victim interviewed on television. His nose was bandaged but he was otherwise unhurt.

Hundreds of workers from nearby towns showed up to help, said officials in Guasave, near the crash site 730 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Helicopters flew in rescue workers and railroad handcars trundled out casualties. Flooding closed roads.

The train, popularly known as ″The Burro″ because it stops at almost every station along the 900-mile route, is patronized almost entirely by poor Mexicans. It left Mazatlan at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, and had gone about 250 miles when the accident occurred at about 4 a.m. Police said they did not know how fast the train was going at the time.

Javier Lopez, the Red Cross duty officer in Los Mochis, 60 miles northeast of the crash site, said most of those on the train had apparently been sleeping and that most of the victims drowned.

No Americans have been reported among the dead, said Dan Sainz, the U.S. vice consul in Mazatlan, but he said bodies were still being found.

Mrs. Santos, who had been traveling back to her home in the northern state of Sonora after visiting in-laws, said she had spoken to a young American woman who was riding in her car. She said she did not know the woman’s fate.

Most bodies were still unidentified. All those identified so far were Mexicans.

Passenger cars lay strewn across the track. Others lay on their side in the river.

Sinaloa state Gov. Francisco Labastida Ochoa said Thursday that National Railroads was providing food, clothing, shelter and about $200 each for survivors.

Heavy rains have soaked the state for two weeks. Rain resumed during the night and the search was suspended. But the skies cleared Thursday morning and police, firefighters and Red Cross workers returned to the site.

Lt. Gabriela Herrera, a duty officer with Guasave police, said about 20 bodies were in the town’s three funeral parlors and the rest were at Guamuchil and Los Mochis.

At least three foreigners survived the wreck, said Teresita Rubio at Turismo Tagore in Guasave. She said two men and a woman from Manchester, England, came to the travel agency for help, washed the mud off their clothes, got some food and headed for San Diego by bus.

Many reports referred to people missing, but many survivors apparently simply walked away and left the area or went home.

Accidents are frequent on the rundown Mexican railway, but this was by far the worst this decade. A rail spokesman, like others consulted, said it was not the worst in Mexican railroad history, but could not list a more serious one.

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