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Glasgow - UK Europe News: Montenegro mourns victims of its worst ever train accident

Published date: 25.01.2006 15:56 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

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Europe News


Montenegro mourns victims of its worst ever train accident
Jan 24, 2006, 12:49 GMT

Montenegrin police and rescue workers search the carriages of a derailed train, in village of Bioce, just outside Podgorica, Tuesday, 24 January 2006. By Tuesday, 41 persons were confirmed dead, more than 180 have been hospitalized and at least three were missing after a passenger train left the tracks near the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica on Monday. Four cars derailed and rolled down a 30-metre drop.

Podgorica - Montenegro was in mourning Tuesday as the death toll in the country's worst ever train disaster climbed to 45, including five children and with victims believed still to be trapped in the wreckage.

Another 200 people, among them 105 children, were injured Monday afternoon when four cars of a passenger train derailed on a steep descent 20 kilometres east of the Montenegrin capital Podgorica and plunged 50 metres into a river canyon.

Initial reports said faulty brakes were to blame.

The cars were part of a train travelling from the northern city of Bijelo Polje to the coastal town of Bar. The large number of children was attributed to the end of a three-week vacation, many of them returning from the Kolasin ski resort.

Rescue efforts, hampered by freezing temperatures and strong winds, were temporarily halted early Tuesday morning, amid fears that more bodies may be trapped under the wreckage.

Some 14 of the injured passengers were still in critical condition in Podgorica hospital, the Podgorica daily Vijesti said.

Vijesti reported that Montenegrin police were aware that the train was in trouble before the accident occurred. The track was ordered cleared about 20 minutes before the train derailed, around 4 p.m. (1500 GMT).

The driver survived the 50-metre plunge into the Moraca river canyon and was being held for questioning.

'We still cannot say what caused it. Faulty brakes are a possibility,' said a Podgorica investigative judge, Zoran Radovic. A probe was launched Tuesday, after a delay caused by the rescue effort.

Survivors recounted the horror of the last minutes of their journey when they realized the train was in trouble.

'The conductors told us that we had lost the brakes and people started screaming, hugging, grabbing the seats and lying down, while the train sharply accelerated,' Radomir Mijatovic, 17, told Vijesti.

'Bags and luggage started falling all over us and then the train plunged into the abyss,' said Mijatovic, who was flung out of the train but escaped with minor injuries.

Among the survivors was a pregnant woman, who went into labour and gave birth to an healthy baby immediately after the crash, a doctor at the Podgorica children's clinic told reporters Tuesday.

The rescue effort in rugged terrain, high winds and temperatures of minus 13 degrees Celsius involved hundreds of police, soldiers, volunteers and paramedics.

Shocked Montenegrins rushed to hospitals to donate blood, while crowds of people anxiously awaited information on family members.

Montenegro declared an official three-day mourning period. Both Montenegro's sister-republic Serbia and neighbouring Croatia immediately offered assistance. Governments both in Podgorica and Belgrade held more emergency sessions on Tuesday.

The railway stretch where the accident occurred had been recently rebuilt, but Monday's accident was the second on it in a year. Last February, an avalanche tore a locomotive off the tracks and flung it into the canyon.

One engineer was killed in that accident, while his assistant managed to save himself by jumping out in time.

More than 100 of the 466 kilometres of the track between Belgrade and Bar, completed three decades ago, runs through rugged Montenegrin mountains. Many of the 254 tunnels and 234 bridges are located on that segment of the railroad.