Tuesday, July 15, 2014 1:16 pm
by Anna SMOLCHENKO, Maria ANTONOVA
MOSCOW (AFP) – Twenty people died and scores more were wounded after a train derailed in Moscow’s packed metro during rush hour on Tuesday in the worst accident ever to hit one of the world’s busiest subways.
Russian television described scenes of chaos and panic on the capital city’s famed system, saying passengers fell like dominoes when the train travelling at 70 kilometres (over 40 miles) an hour braked abruptly and three carriages derailed and crumpled.
Rescue teams were combing throught the mangled metal carriages in an attempt to extricate several bodies.
“I thought it was the end,” one surviving passenger said on television. “We were trapped and only got out through a miracle.
“There were lots of injured. Various injuries: heads, legs.”
President Vladimir Putin, who is on a trip to Brazil, ordered a criminal probe into the tragedy that put a huge strain on the city of some 12 million and snarled traffic on its notoriously clogged roads amid a heatwave.
Sirens wailed as dozens of ambulances rushed to help treat the wounded and helicopters buzzed overhead to evacuate those with serious injuries, AFP journalists said at the scene outside the Park Pobedy metro station in western Moscow.
Nineteen people perished at the scene and another passenger died of her injuries in hospital, a health ministry spokesman said.
In 14 of Moscow’s hospitals, doctors fought to save the lives of severely injured passengers.
In all, nearly 130 people were hospitalised and 42 were in a serious condition.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, led a prayer to honour the victims, while city hall called for a day of mourning on Wednesday.
The accident raised calls for urgent improvements to the ornate but overcrowded metro, which first opened in 1935 under Stalin.
– Terror attack ruled out –
Citing preliminary information, the Investigative Committee said it was looking at a number of possible causes including a mechanical flaw with a carriage and a power failure.
A terror attack has been ruled out, the committee said.
Moscow deputy mayor Pyotr Biryukov said earlier that several people had been trapped in the train, while the authorities said more than 1,000 had been evacuated.
Passengers said smoke quickly spread through the carriages and rescue workers treated them with oxygen.
The accident took place as temperatures outside soared to around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).
“After the most thorough investigation there will be not only dismissals but also criminal cases against those who are responsible for this tragedy,” Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said.
“What happened is one of the most major accidents of recent times.”
As news of the crash spread, the hashtag #metro quickly become one of the most popular on Twitter in Russia.
Alexei Naryshkin, a presenter on Echo of Moscow radio, posted a photograph on Twitter of rescue workers carrying a body in a black bag.
“They are laying out the injured. They constantly go down with stretchers. They carry them out. Some are unconscious. Some are moaning with pain,” Naryshkin wrote.
– ‘Panic erupted’ –
Another witness, a young man in a polo shirt, said: “I got into the carriage and after about 20 seconds, the light went out and the train was just pulled apart. I was just thrown into the centre of the carriage.”
“Panic erupted,” he told Life News television.
“We climbed out of the carriages and we saw a blockage, men took hammers and pliers and broke it down and we walked on. The train was smashed, the chassis was just pulled apart.”
Television footage showed rescue workers carrying bloodied passengers away on stretchers, while paramedics treated some on nearby grass verges.
Sobbing people, some with bandages around their heads, were seated on chairs outside the metro.
“This is the most serious man-made disaster in the Moscow underground in its entire history,” infrastructure expert Alexei Khazbiyev told AFP.
“It is the most serious accident apart from terrorist attacks.”
He slammed authorities for not doing enough to modernise the system, saying it could not cope with the current passenger traffic.
“We are paying for poor-quality and dangerous services,” he said.
Moscow’s ornate metro is considered one of the world’s busiest and carries some nine million people every day.
The train derailed between Park Pobedy — the deepest station at 84 metres underground — and Slavyansky Boulevard stations.
Park Pobedy opened in 2003, while Slavyansky Boulevard opened five years later.
In the last serious accident on the Moscow metro in 1982, eight people died when an escalator broke down.
Around 40 people died in twin suicide bomdings on the metro in 2010.