Witnesses, survivors recount Egypt's deadly Badrashin train crash

Tuesday 15 Jan 2013

Ahram Online visits site of Monday's deadly rail disaster in Giza and speaks to eyewitnesses; survivors and hospital workers in hopes of finding out what really happened

Badrahin train crash
(Photo: Lina El Wardani)

Hours after the tragic train crash that killed at least 19 passengers and injured scores of others in the Giza suburb of Badrashin, victims' relatives and police officials remained gathered at the scene and a military helicopter hovered overhead.

The 12-carriage train, which was carrying 1,328 Central Security Forces (CSF) conscripts, mostly around 20 years old, had been travelling en route to Cairo from Upper Egypt. The conscripts had been preparing for their first military training, when two railway cars – each carrying over 200 soldiers – derailed, hitting a cargo train sitting outside a storage depot.

Both CSF conscripts and eyewitnesses say the train was a military one, and therefore hold Egypt's defence ministry responsible. The defence ministry has since issued a statement, however, clarifying that the doomed train belonged to Egypt's State Security apparatus.

When asked, police at the scene – including Lieutenant-Colonel Mohammed Abdel-Hamid, vice-president of the Badrashin Police Station – said the train was the responsibility of the transportation ministry.

At the crash scene, two train carriages could be seen: one upside down, the other – several metres away – lies crushed in a field. Among the rubble, one can see passengers' clothing; the stench of death is in the air.

Across the street from where the accident took place, Ramadan Mohamed sips tea with his family, as Reda Abdel-Latif, his mother, washes the clothes of her three grandchildren. All of them heard the train crash – to which they had been first responders – late Monday night.

"I got up when I heard conscripts screaming 'Help!' I stopped a car that was passing by and we called the ambulance and police, which arrived ten minutes later," Abdel-Latif recalled. "Then we stopped trains coming from both directions and began moving the injured to nearby hospitals."

She went on to recount how, together with neighbours, they collected money and bought medical equipment for the nearby Hawamdiya Hospital, which, they say, had been totally unequipped. "The young people wanted to donate blood, but found no syringes or bags in the hospital," Abdel-Latif said.

Nasser El-Saqa, another eyewitness at the scene, told Ahram Online: "We were sitting here at a cafe when we heard a very loud noise. We rushed to the scene to see dozens of dead and injured on the ground. Body parts and blood were everywhere. Ambulances arrived 15 minutes later and police came an hour or two after this," said El-Saqa.

Conflicting reports

At the Hawamdiya Hospital, to which many of the injured were moved, conflicting reports persist.

Morgue official Mohammed El-Sayed told Ahram Online that the hospital had not been equipped for the disaster at all.

"There was no cotton, no alcohol or bandages; there was a lack of the most basic supplies. I saw injured people who might have been saved if we had had the right equipment," El-Sayed asserted.

Hospital officials, however, tell a different story.

"The hospital is totally equipped; we have everything," said hospital deputy head Abdel Ati Hamed. He went on to note that Hawamdiya Hospital had treated 39 of the wounded, seven of whom eventually succumbed to their injuries.

In each room of the hospital, three or four injured conscripts could be seen, some sitting down, two or three to one bed. The hospital reeked of fried food, while cats could be seen in patients' rooms and children played on the stairs.

Eyewitness accounts

Ahram Online spoke to two injured CSF conscripts, who gave firsthand accounts of what happened.

Both said the trip had already been far from pleasant from the outset, with their superiors repeatedly insulting and beating them with sticks along with other conscripts as collective punishment, which proved to be the least of their problems by the end of the day.

Mohamed Ali, 20, who sustained back and head injuries:

"The train set out at about 6pm. There was a strange sound in the wheels, especially in the last carriage, which I was in. The train itself moved very slowly and stopped frequently. We told the train driver, and he reported the problem."

"The train stopped completely in Minya, but no one inspected it there. Then it moved again at greater speed and the strange noise grew louder. Just after Beni Suef and before Giza, we heard very loud banging that lasted five minutes. Then the last two carriages crashed into a stationary cargo train."

"We were thrown right and left, and then the carriage flipped over. I passed out and awoke to find myself in a truck with four other injured passengers en route to a hospital. I don't remember how I got out of the train."

"On the truck I was in, one injured passenger had a broken leg; his leg hung by the skin only. Another had his nose broken, while a third had suffered broken ribs. I'm one of the lucky ones who had been sitting with five others in seats fit for two. Others were crammed into the upper shelves usually reserved for baggage. Those are the ones who died."

Ibrahim Mohamed, 21, who sustained head and foot injuries:

"We were worried about the weird noises the train was making. We tried to convince our superiors to let us out in Minya or change trains, but they refused. When the train stopped in Minya, we hoped that they had done something to fix the problem, but they didn't."

"The carriage kept dancing left and right, and we moved with it until it crashed into another train, after which we found ourselves on the ground and the train on top of us. I was okay, but around me people were bleeding, while others couldn't move. I kept yelling for help."

"Then people began to come to the rescue and we moved the injured in cars and trucks until police and ambulances began arriving. It was very dark; we couldn't see anything. The train kept moving, meanwhile, as the driver didn't realise that the last two carriages were gone until some four kilometres later."

"We kept looking for our colleagues, but it was so dark. We used our mobile phones to see and we saw people missing legs and hands. We tried as best we could to move them to the hospital."

"I had been happy to join the army. I expected that we would take comfortable buses – not be crammed five in one seat in an ancient train in which passengers ride in spaces reserved for baggage and conscripts insult us. This is shameful; this is a military train and the minister of defence is responsible."

"We don't want resignations, we want military trials for the officials responsible for this crime of negligence." 

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