Tens of protesters are demonstrating in front of the governorate headquarters in the Upper Egyptian city of Assiut, demanding that governor Yehia Keshk, a Muslim Brotherhood member, step down after more than 40 children were killed in a fatal collision between a train and a kindergarten school bus Saturday morning.
The death toll from the accident, which took place in Assiut village Manfalout, has risen to 50, Keshk announced Saturday afternoon. Eighteen are also injured, including seven that are in a critical condition. The interior ministry later confirmed that the dead are mostly children, although the bus driver and his assistant were also killed.
Prime Minister Hisham Qandil and a delegation of officials, including the ministers of interior, health, education and insurance and social affairs, attempted to reach the site of the crash but were prevented from doing so by angry families of the victims gathered on the road and the rail tracks.
"People are currently blocking the road, some are collecting the remaining body parts," Osama Seddik, an eyewitness currently at the scene, confirmed to Ahram Online earlier.
The bus driver drove the school bus, which was carrying 60 children aged between four and six years old, over a railway crossing despite the fact that the warning lights and sirens were on, Egypt’s Railway Authority affirmed earlier. It occurred in full view of the crossing guard and a traffic policeman.
In a televised statement Saturday afternoon, President Mohamed Morsi offered his condolences to the families of the victims and promised financial compensation and emotional support as well as an immediate investigation into the fatal accident.
“I have decided to refer the relevant officials to the public prosecution for fast investigations in order to identify those responsible,” the president said, adding that he accepted the resignation of Transport Minister Mohamed Rashad El-Metini and Railway Authority head Mostafa Qenawi.
Although a state financial compensation package has yet to be confirmed, Ibrahim El-Zaafrani secretary-general of Arab Doctors Union’s relief committee announced that the union will award LE10,000 to the families of those who lost their children and LE 5,000 to the families of the injured.
The same amount was also promised by Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb.
Egypt's prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud consequently ordered an investigation into the minister of transportation, the head of the Railway Authority and the crossing guard who was on duty at the time of the crash.
Meanwhile, acting-director of the Railway Authority Hussein Zakaria told Al-Ahram Arabic language news website that families of the school children gathered at the location of the collision are preventing railway workers from removing the wreckage from the track.
According to Seddik, the families in the village allege that the railway crossing guard was asleep when the bus carrying the children drove over the track.
Seddik also said that police only arrived around 9am although the accident occurred two hours earlier. He added that only one ambulance was sent as a first response to the accident.
"By the time they sent a well-equipped ambulance, the children had died," added Seddik.
In 2002, after a similar train accident in the Giza governorate village of Al-Ayyat left 18 dead, Morsi, who was an MP at the time, vehemently criticised the response of Egypt’s former prime minister Atef Ebeid and ultimately held him responsible.
“The accident reflects the massive neglect by high officials, including the head of Egypt’s Railway Authority, the minister of transportation and the prime minister,” Morsi said at the time, further voicing his discontent as only lower-ranking employees were held accountable.
According to a report published in July 2011 by the Central Authority for Public Transport, road and rail accidents claimed over 7,000 lives in Egypt in 2010 — a rise of 7.9 per cent over the previous year.