DOUALA: The death toll from a train derailment in Cameroon rose to 63 on Saturday, the communications minister said, as rescue efforts continued and work began to clear the vital rail line.
The packed Camrail train had been traveling from the capital Yaounde to the port city of Douala on Friday. It was derailed at around 11 a.m. local time (0600 EDT) near the station in the town of Eseka, 120 km (75 miles) west of the capital, causing carriages to overturn.
The government said late on Friday 55 people had died.
“Since the last figures were given, other bodies have been found. As of right now, we are at 63 dead and at least 500 wounded. The work to clear the wreckage is continuing,” Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary told Reuters on Saturday.
Work began during the night to remove the derailed wagons from the line – one of the main routes for goods and passengers between the coast and interior.
“The train with wounded and the bodies of victims has arrived at Yaounde station in the presence of government and Camrail officials,” Camrail posted on its official Facebook page early on Saturday.
“Buses drove passengers who escaped yesterday’s incident to Douala.”
Camrail has given no indication of what might have caused the accident. Witnesses, including a Reuters reporter traveling on the train, said rail workers had added additional carriages to accommodate extra passengers before its departure.
A spokeswoman for Bollore, the French industrial group that operates the line, said the company would communicate on the accident in coordination with Cameroonian government authorities, but added that the immediate focus was on rescue operations.
A Bollore official based in the region, who was not authorized to speak with the press and asked not to be named, said the company was cooperating with authorities examining the crash.
“Camrail has made the train’s conductor and its mechanic available to the judicial police, because in these kinds of circumstances that is the procedure. That will allow for an understanding of what happened,” the official said.
He added that traffic along the Yaounde to Douala line, which was halted following the crash, was expected to resume soon and engineers were at the site of the accident to evaluate the damage.
The collapse of a section of the main highway between Yaounde and Douala amid heavy rain earlier on Friday had blocked hundreds of vehicles on the road and prompted increased numbers of passengers to make the journey by rail.
The two incidents on the same day cut the main transport axis in the central African country of over 22 million people.