The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Updates from Qalyoubiya...

I've been on the phone since the morning with a journalist friend present in the scene, and with Photographer Nasser Nouri who managed to make it to Qalyoub.
I was told the rescue services did not show up to the scene, except after at least an hour and half, during which ordinary citizens and uninjured passengers were trying to help the victims and bring them out of the trains.
The Military Police is all over the scene, as one of the trains had a big number of poor peasant army conscripts, and they laid siege on the area.
There are at least 15 Central Security Forces trucks parked few hundreds of meters away from the accident scene. As always the regime takes no chances what angry relatives (angry at what happened, and angry at the state's incompetence) could do... just like what happened with the Red Sea ferry crisis.
UPDATE: mini clashes started already. A reporter present in the scene just called in to say an MP named Mohssen Radi showed up and started shouting accusing the govt of corruption and negligence. The security services and Mubarak's National Democratic Party supporters tried to silence him, so the victims' relatives started shouting accusing the NDP and the security: "You are the ones to blame!" Then they started chanting: "Ihmal! Ihmal Ihmal! (Negligence! Negligence! Negligence!)"
UPDATE: Nasser Nouri sent me pix, that I'll be uploading in few minutes. Nasser braved his way there as soon as he heard about the tragic accident, and called me again as he got home, his clothes all soaked in blood.
UPDATE: You can find the photos on my flickr account.
UPDATE: The mini clashes I was told about were swiftly contained by the security services, according to a journalist present in the scene. "It lasted for few minutes only, as there are LOADS of security troops around," he said. MP Mohssen Radi belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary block. He represents the Banha Constituency. My journalist friend had to hung up, as rescue services managed to drag another body from the rubbles.

Peasant conscripts pulled out of the train

Train tragedy

Poor Lebanese had their country's civilian infrastructure ruined by aggressive Israeli air strikes. In our case, we don't need the Israelis. We can ruin our country and do the job ourselves.....

UPDATE: Reuters updated the story Issandr posted, including some quotes by govt officials... The families of the dead will receive only US$871 from the authorities as a compensation!

Egyptian train crash kills dozens, injures many
By Aziz El-Kaissouni
QALYOUB, Egypt, Aug 21 (Reuters) - A train crash killed and injured dozens of people in a Nile Delta town north of Cairo on Monday in Egypt's worst rail disaster for four years.
Casualty figures varied widely. Egypt's health minister put the toll at 58 dead and 143 injured. A security source had earlier said up to 80 had died. An investigation was under way.
State news agency MENA said the accident happened early in the morning when a train driver apparently ignored a signal and one commuter train ploughed into the rear of another.
The head of the state railway authority blamed "human error" for the crash, MENA reported.
"The first train was stopped. We looked and saw the other train coming from behind, screeching," said Khalil Sheikh Khalil, who had disembarked from a minibus nearby moments before the crash.
"We kept saying: 'Driver, driver, a train is coming.' So the (train) driver moved up 15 metres, and while he was moving, the two trains impacted," he told Reuters.
Khalil said the engine of the rear train burst into flames on impact. A Reuters photographer at the scene said one of the trains had derailed and was lying on its side. It had split into four parts and appeared to have burned.
The crash ripped seats from the train carriages, which were littered with clothes and shoes. The carriages had been crushed together like an accordion.
"A loud crash awoke me. One of the trains had derailed and people were scattered on the floor. I called the authorities and they told me I was crazy," said Osama Abdul Haleem, who lives near the crash site. "I told them there are dead and dying there on the ground."
Rescue workers scrambled to evacuate the casualties, loading them onto some two dozen ambulances. Blood was spattered across the wreckage of both trains.
By midday, rescuers were still recovering bodies, using a bulldozer to pull apart a metal side panel to reach a body lodged in one of the carriages. Rescuers found body parts in the rubble under one of the carriages.
Hundred of bystanders and passengers' relatives anxious for news converged on the wreckage in a semi-rural area about 20 km (12 miles) north of Cairo.
Security troops linked arms to keep the crowds at bay. Officials called on people over loudhailers to give blood, and a queue formed in response. Crowds also berated a government official at the scene, chanting "negligence" and scuffling with police who tried to disperse them.
Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali said the government would pay 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($871) to families of the dead and 1,000 pounds for the wounded. It would also cover funeral costs.
An opposition politician at the scene said government lenience over a string of previous transport accidents meant there was no motivation to maintain safety standards.
More than 1,000 people died in February when a ferry sank in the Red Sea. Investigations primarily blamed the captain, who died, for not following safety procedures, but the public directed its rage at the ferry owner, a member of parliament.
Monday's crash was the deadliest railway accident in Egypt since about 360 were killed in 2002 when fire ripped through seven carriages of a crowded passenger train.
That accident was the worst in 150 years of Egyptian rail history and prompted the resignation of the transport minister and the head of the state railway system.
((Reporting by Cairo bureau; Writing by Mohammed Abbas and Cynthia Johnston))

UPDATE: Transportation Minister Mohamed Mansour visited the scene, according to Nile News, and announced an investigation has already started into the accident. Prime Minister Ahmad Nazeef says the "priority should go now for rescuing the injured."

UPDATE: Political Cartoonist and blogger Fathi Abul Ezz published a funny, but sad, crtical cartoon of Minister Mohamed Mansour. The caption says, "We are trying to help efforts for birth control by train accidents, following the president's orders."
cartoon fathi abulezz

UPDATE: The Prosecutor General ordered the dead victims' bodies to be moved to the Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo for identification, says Nile News.

UPDATE: This is going to be my last update for today. I've been flicking through the Egyptian TV channels since noon to get information about what's happening. The Sattelite Nile News has devoted a good chunk of time to cover the tragedy, with interviews with several govt officials, and footage of the wreckage. As for the local Egyptian TV channels, they are living in Lala land, focusing their coverage as always on president's news. Even when they reported on the trains accident, it was "president Mubarak extends his condolences to the victims of the tragic trains accident."

I would like to take the opportunity to send a big THANK YOU to photographer Nasser Nouri who shared his photos with the Arabist. Nasser left Cairo and travelled as soon as he could to Qalyoubiya to take those pictures of the tragedy, and kept us updated. He even helped moving bodies from the trains. He emailed us the pix as soon as he arrived back in Cairo, and before he changed his work clothes that were stained in blood. Shokran ya Nasser. You are the man!