At least 55 people, including women and children, have lost their lives and nearly 600 others sustained injuries in an accident during which an overloaded passenger train derailed in southern Cameroon, authorities say.
According to a statement read on state broadcaster CRTV by the country’s Transport Minister Edgard Alain Mebe Ngo’o, the train, carrying 1,300 passengers instead of the usual 600, derailed while travelling from the capital Yaounde to the port city of Douala at midday on Friday.
Witnesses said that several wagons swung off the track as the crammed train derailed leaving behind debris spread over adjacent rail tracks.
It came off the tracks just before arriving in the central city of Eseka, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of the capital, Ngo’o further said, adding that at least 575 people were wounded, with a number of them in critical condition.
The train route became particularly busy after a bridge on a main road, linking the two major cities, was washed away in heavy rains overnight Thursday, disrupting traffic and sending extra waves of travelers onto trains.
Other reports said that several wagons had been attached to the train before its departure from Yaounde in order to accommodate extra passengers.
The minister said that the cause of the accident was not clear yet.
The collapse of the bridge and the derailment of the train, two incidents that occurred on the same day, have now almost entirely blocked the main transportation axis in the Central African country of over 22 million.
In a statement, the rail company Camrail, a subsidiary of French investment group Bollore, extended its condolences to the affected families, adding that it had sent “intervention and security teams” to the site.
It also said that some of the injured were being transported to a local hospital and others were taken to Douala.
Derailments are fairly common in West and Central Africa, where many rail lines are poorly maintained and fail to meet safety standards.