A collision between two trains killed at least 32 passengers and left more than 100 injured on Friday in southern Egypt, a country hit by fatal railway accidents largely blamed on crumbling infrastructure and poor maintenance.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued harsh punishments to those responsible for the crash, which came as his government grappled with another major transport challenge, a giant container ship blocking the Suez Canal and causing huge traffic jams at both ends.
The Ministry of Health said dozens of ambulances rushed to the scene in the Tahta district of Sohag province, about 460 kilometers south of the capital Cairo after the collision.
Thirty-two people were killed and 108 injured, the Ministry of Health said in an updated report.
Feathers and twisted metal sprang out of the wreckage, while dozens of people gathered around the overturned wagons, an AFP correspondent reported.
Scary pictures from inside one of the carriages published on Facebook showed men and women screaming for help as they tried to free themselves from the wreck.
“People are dying. Where are the authorities? Help us,” a young man shouted repeatedly.
A picture showed another man covered in dust trapped in twisted metal in what could have been the carriage’s passage.
In another frame, a man is heard urging a middle-aged woman who seems stuck between the seats to move forward. She struggles and is heard saying, “Please, my son, help me.”
Egypt’s railway authority said the crash occurred after unidentified passengers “activated emergency brakes in several carriages” in one of the trains.
A statement said one train hit the other car’s last car, causing at least two cars to overturn between Maragha and Tahta stations.
One of the trains was traveling between the southern city of Luxor and Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, while the other was en route between Cairo and the southern city of Aswan.
Health Minister Hala Zayed traveled to Sohag to check on the injured, as the authorities launched an investigation into the accident.
President Sisi promised “deterrent punishment” for all those found responsible for the collision.
“Anyone who caused this painful accident through negligence or corruption, or anything like that, must receive a deterrent punishment without exception or delay,” he tweeted.
Egypt has suffered fatal train accidents in recent years.
One of the deadliest was in 2002, when 373 people died when a fire broke through a crowded train south of Cairo, and many fatal crashes have occurred since then.
In March last year, at least 13 people were injured when two passenger trains collided in Cairo, which triggered a short shutdown of rail traffic nationwide.
At the time, the train chiefs blamed the crash on signals that did not work in bad weather.
And in February 2019, a train derailed and caught fire at Cairo Central Station, killing at least 22 people and injuring 41 and forcing Transport Minister Hisham Arafat to resign.
The following month, Sisi appointed a senior military officer, General Kamel al-Wazir, as head of the Ministry of Transport.
Wazir had been head of the Egyptian military’s technical authority since 2015.
The unit is behind many of the army’s mega projects, including a new capital east of Cairo and the construction of everything from hospitals to treatment plants.
Since taking office in 2014, Sisi has appointed military officers to senior positions, including governorships.
He has repeatedly praised the role of the military in delivering major projects in record time, such as the expansion of the Suez Canal in August 2015.
A view of the ever given cargo ship on the Suez Canal on Thursday, March 25, 2021. © REUTERS / FRANCE 24
The strategic waterway has been making headlines since Tuesday, when the container ship MV Ever Given – which is longer than four football pitches – got stuck across the canal and closed the important shipping lane.
The blockade has caused major traffic jams at each end of the 193-kilometer-long canal and major delays in the delivery of oil and other products.
Tugboats and dredgers worked on Friday to free the ship as companies were forced to divert services from the Suez Canal around the southern tip of Africa, a much longer route.
Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority said the ship veered off course and ran aground when winds of up to 40 knots whipped up a sandstorm that obstructed visibility.