Mari was hanging out her laundry in the allotment of her house in Angrois, a rural parish around four kilometers from Santiago, in front of the train tracks. At 8.41pm on Wednesday, she felt the force of a deafening explosion. “I saw an enormous torpedo of dust and noise,” she told reporters. “I thought that a train was coming toward me and so I started to run.” Moments after the crash, fire broke out in some of the cars, filling the area with smoke and causing chaotic scenes in the neighborhood.
The waitress in the Tere bar, which is 30 meters from the crash site, called the emergency services and described a hellish scene. “They told me to wait, they didn’t believe me but all I could say was that there were a lot of dead bodies.” In a neighboring premises, the owner cleared a space for an improvised field hospital, where the injured could be treated.
The garden just in front of the establishment was soon full of passengers from the train, who were covered in blood, and in some cases had metal shards sticking out of their bodies. In a matter of minutes, ambulances, fire trucks and police cars began to arrive on the scene. Residents of the area soon began to emerge from their houses carrying blankets for the injured – blankets that were soon being used to cover the bodies of the dead.
Eyewitnesses could see how one of the train carriages had flown over the top of the safety wall running alongside the tracks, scattering wreckage over an area that was due to be used for the upcoming fiestas in the city. “When I got to the scene, the carriage was still moving,” said one man. “I saw a woman crawl out of the window.”
Raúl Fariza, from Houston in the US, was in carriage number seven of eight, and was on his way to Santiago de Compostela for the fiestas, after visiting family members in Zamora. Fariza saw dozens of people thrown to the floor by the derailing, including his wife. “The impact ripped off part of her scalp and she was covered in blood,” he said. When the emergency services got to her, she was still alive. Fariza also saw the rescue of a baby from the wreckage – “Who seemed, at least, to be healthy and out of danger.”
Two students, their faces still struck by panic, told reporters that they felt the impact and then before they knew it, they were “surrounded by bodies.”
The injured were taken to the nearby Clínico hospital in ambulances, private cars and even in taxis. The medical authorities soon put out a call for blood donors to come forward, as staff struggled to cope with the scores of victims arriving at the site.
By around 10pm, the Galician regional premier, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, arrived on the scene. “There are many, many dead,” he told a reporter from the Cadena SER radio station. Through the night the death toll slowly crept up: first it was six, then 10, then 15 and then 20. By Wednesday morning, the news had got even worse: 77 dead and 140 injured.