June 29, 2002

Over 200 Dead in Train Crash

Over 200 passengers have been confirmed dead in a train crash near Igandu, in the central Dodoma region about 400 kilometres (250 miles) west of Dar es Salaam on Monday, June 24.

A passenger train, believed to have been carrying about 1.200 passengers, lost power as it attempted to climb a steep slope, and then slid backwards for up to 20 minutes before crashing into a freight train at a nearby station. Isaac Mwakajila, assistant director-general of Tanzania Railways Corporation, said the train had suffered a mechanical fault on the hill.

Rescue workers on Tuesday, June 18 gave up hope of rescuing any more survivors, and President Benjamin Mkapa has promised a full inquiry into the tragedy, which was marked by national days of mourning on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Prime Minister, Mr Frederick Sumaye, led thousands of Tanzanians at Maili Mbili in burying 88 unclaimed bodies. The retrieval of bodies from the wreckage was completed on Wednesday night. Some 193 bodies were identified and claimed. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan offered his heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the victims and to the people and government of Tanzania. The UN leader wished Tanzanians "the strength to bear and overcome the heavy burden that the tragedy has placed on the country as a whole".

Hundreds of relatives have been attempting to get inside Dodoma hospital for news about relatives, but the authorities there have denied access, leading to some anxiety and anger among relatives, the BBC reported on Tuesday. The Tanzania Red Cross Society contributed first aid assistance, stretchers, blankets, surgical gloves, mattresses, body bags and first-aid kits, while volunteers also offered psychological support to victims and provided tracing services for families looking for their loved ones.

Members of parliament, which sits in Dodoma, including Health Minister Anna Abdallah (herself a doctor), took part in the rescue effort and ferried injured passengers to hospital. However, Tanzanian media have linked Monday's disaster with numerous air and rail crashes in the country over the past 10 years, and criticised alleged government inaction to improve health and safety measures on public transport. They also wondered why no disaster management policy had been put in place in Tanzania to address the causes of these accidents, and mitigate their consequences. Tanzania's decades-old trains are notoriously overcrowded on what is the main rail line through the country. The railway was built by the Chinese in the 1960s, but has been poorly maintained.

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