Fifty-three people were killed and nearly 300 injured on Friday when a packed passenger train travelling between Cameroon’s two largest cities derailed and overturned, the transportation minister said.
Speaking on state radio, Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o said the figures represented only a provisional toll from the accident, which occurred near the train station in the town of Eseka, around 120 km (75 miles) west of the capital, Yaounde.
The inter-city passenger train was travelling from Yaounde to the commercial capital, Douala, when the accident occurred around 11 a.m. (1000 GMT).
“There was a loud noise. I looked back and the wagons behind us left the rails and started rolling over and over. There was a lot of smoke,” said a Reuters journalist travelling in a wagon near the front of the train.
He said that, before its departure from Yaounde, a railway employee said additional wagons had been added to the train to accommodate extra passengers, though it was unclear if that played a role in the accident.
The collapse of a bridge along the main highway between the capital and Douala had prompted increased numbers of passengers to undertake the journey by rail.
“There are the bodies of women, children. There are many,” said one employee of Camrail, which is operated by France’s Bollore Railways, speaking from the scene of the accident. He said three of his colleagues were among the victims.
Joel Bineli, a passenger, told Reuters he saw the dismembered bodies on the tracks at the accident site.
Social media users posted photos taken at the scene of the accident which showed several wagons overturned on a slope beside the rail line.
“Rescue workers arrived and they are pulling bodies from the wagon. I’ve already counted around 40 bodies they’ve removed,” said Rachelle Paden, another passenger.
Camrail said it had sent teams to the site and victims were being transported to a local hospital and to Douala. A Bollore spokesman would only confirm that an accident had occurred.
Many rail lines in west and central Africa have a reputation for poor maintenance and failing to respect safety norms. Derailments are relatively common.
Though Bollore is generally viewed as a reliable operator, it experienced another major incident last month when part of a bridge along a line it controls in Ivory Coast collapsed under freight train.