Four Children Die as Train Hits School Bus in Southwestern France

Society » INCIDENTS | December 15, 2017, Friday // 09:48
Bulgaria: Four Children Die as Train Hits School Bus in Southwestern France

Four children have died after a train and a school bus collided outside the town of Perpignan in southwestern France, according to the interior ministry.

The collision occurred at 4pm local time on Thursday afternoon on a railway crossing at the small town of Millas some 9 miles west of Perpignan, close to the border with Spain.

Photos from the scene tweeted by a local television station showed the train derailed and the bus shorn in half.

The dead pupils were reportedly between eight and 14 years old.

Another 20 people were injured in the crash, 11 of them seriously, according to French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who travelled immediately to the scene. Most of the injured were schoolchildren aboard the bus, aged 13-17.

Philippe Vignes, state prefect for the Pyrénées-Orientales region, called it an accident of "national proportions" that required "national security reinforcements".

Some 70 emergency workers with 10 vehicles were at the site, where a field hospital has been set up. Four helicopters are at hand.

Families of passengers rushed to the scene but were not allowed to approach the bus, according to AFP. Police asked them to gather at the local school. Some were received at the town hall.

It was not immediately clear how the accident occurred.

SNCF, the national rail operator, said the level crossing where the collision took place "was not on the list of sensitive crossings". It was, a spokesman told Le Figaro, "well-equipped, in good working order and classic".

The train was travelling at 80 kilometres per hour, a "normal speed at this place," it said.

According to witnesses cited by Le Figaro, the crossing barriers were down when the crash occurred. 

But the big sister of a pupil in a second school bus behind the one struck by the train said: "She just told us that the bus was cut in two down the middle, and that it had crossed because the barriers were not down."

She added: "She saw her friends under white sheets, school bags scattered all over the place. That's all she wanted to tell us."

Another witness called Barbara who was in the train told local newspaper l'Indépendant: "The shock was so violent we got the impression the train was going to derail and keel over."

Elisabeth Borne, the French transport minister, described the crash as a "terrible accident".

"All emergency services have been mobilised and a crisis coordination unit set up," an official at the local Millas townhall told Reuters.

President Emmanuel Macron reacted to the news by tweeting: "All my thoughts are with the victims of this terrible accident of a school bus and with their families. The state is fully mobilised to come to their aid."

Video images showed a long line of ambulance and emergency service vehicles near the crossing where the collision occurred.

France has suffered several train incidents in the past few decades. In 2013, a train derailment in central France killed at least six people. One of the deadliest was in 1988, when a commuter train heading into Paris’ Gare de Lyon crashed into a stationary train, killing 56 people, after its brakes failed. 

The country has 11,000 level crossings and safety groups regularly complain that many are dangerous.


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