France stunned by deadly school bus crash

Firefighters and police work at the site of the accident in Millas, southern France, where a train crashed into a school bus at a level crossing. (AFP)
Updated 15 December 2017
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France stunned by deadly school bus crash

MILLAS, France: French authorities were investigating Friday how a train was able to smash into a school bus, killing six children and ripping their vehicle in half in an accident that has stunned the local community.
Four teenagers died on Thursday in the collision at a level crossing in the village of Millas near the southern city of Perpignan, with the toll rising Friday when two 11-year-old girls succumbed to their injuries.
Fourteen other children were injured when the bus was torn in two and the train pulled off its rails, in the worst accident involving a school bus in France for three decades.
Investigators only finished identifying the dead teenagers overnight due to the severity of their injuries, with the mayor of the neighboring village describing the scene as “a vision of horror.”
The accident site was sealed off as police examined whether a technical or human error was to blame.
It has not been confirmed whether the automatic barriers were open at the time of the crash, though national rail operator SNCF said the crossing was “functioning normally,” citing witnesses.
“The families of those caught up in the accident are going through something absolutely terrible,” said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who visited Millas on Thursday.
Most of the students were from the local Christian Bourquin junior high school, where pupils were in shock as they headed in on Friday morning.
“I went to sleep at two or three in the morning. I was watching the news, I wasn’t able to sleep,” said teenager Lorena Garcies, dressed in black.
Her cousin and another friend were on the bus, but escaped with broken bones and trauma.
“I’m trying to be strong for them,” she said.
The female driver of the bus was among the injured and has not yet been questioned, but Perpignan prosecutor Jean-Jacques Fagni said investigators had spoken to the train driver.
“There was good visibility,” said regional chief Carole Delga.
“This level crossing wasn’t really dangerous and no technical problems had been raised,” she told Europe 1 radio.
She nonetheless pledged to modernize dangerous crossings, as a debate broke out about whether a technical error had caused the crash.
Samuel Conegero, the father of one of the children, said his son took a photo showing “the barriers were lifted” when the bus drove into the path of the incoming train.
“We will obviously consider malfunctions of all kinds,” senior police official Jean Valery Letterman said. “This will take time.”
At the school, Sabrina Mesas, hugging her stunned daughter Lilou whose best friend was lightly injured in the crash, was struggling to stop fight back tears.
“We’re in total shock this morning,” Mesas said. “It’s important that everyone is together, that they can talk, to put into words what has happened.”
A psychological support team was on site and students were encouraged to come into school — authorities do not want them to face the tragedy alone, said Abdelkader Taoui, one of the doctors sent to help.
Teachers have also been left stunned. “I don’t even know how to get on with things,” said Jordi Sales, who teaches Catalan and Spanish at the school near the Spanish border.
Robert Olive, mayor of neighboring Saint-Feliu-d’Amont, described the scene as a “vision of horror.”
The accident is the worst involving a school bus in France since 1987, when 53 people including 44 children were killed in a pile-up involving two coaches that were taking students to a summer camp.
France has also seen multiple deadly rail accidents in recent years, including the derailment of a high-speed TGV train that was being tested in 2015, killing 11 people onboard.
In 2013, seven people were killed when a commuter train slammed into a station south of Paris. A signaling defect was blamed for that crash.


Flood rescue stepped up as more torrential rain batters Kerala

Updated 3 min 58 sec ago
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Flood rescue stepped up as more torrential rain batters Kerala

  • Thousands of people are waiting to be rescued as relentless monsoon rains cause extensive flooding
  • The central government has dispatched military units to Kerala, but state officials are pleading for additional help

KOCHI, India: Rescuers in helicopters and boats fought through renewed torrential rain Saturday to reach stranded villages in India’s Kerala state as the toll from the worst monsoon floods in a century rose above 320 dead.
Dozens of military and coast guard helicopters took troops to high risk areas seeking people trapped on the roofs of submerged buildings. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the crisis as “devastating” after visiting Kerala.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced late Friday that the monsoon death toll had dramatically risen to 324.
Media reports said at least another 14 bodies were found Saturday and state officials said they expected the number to rise as more landslides were reported and dam levels remained dangerously high. No new official toll was given however.
With power and communication lines down, thousands remained trapped in towns and villages cut off by the floods amid growing shortages of food and water.
Helicopters have been dropping emergency food and water supplies across Kerala, while special trains carrying drinking water and rice have been sent to the state.


With rain alerts hanging over much of the state, dozens of dam and reservoir gates across the state have had to be opened as the waters reached danger levels, inundating many villages downstream.
Particular fears have been raised for Chengannur, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the state capital Thiruvananthapuram, which has been cut off for four days.
Troops and military boats have been sent to the town and media reports said bodies had been found. The state government did not immediately give an updated toll early Saturday.
Saji Cherian, who represents Chengannur in the Kerala assembly, said he feared there were at least 50 dead in the town and broke down in tears as he pleaded for more help on Asianet TV late Friday.
“Please give us a helicopter. I am begging you. Please help me, people in my place will die. Please help us. There is no other solution, people have to be airlifted,” he said.
“We did what we can with fishing boats we procured using our political clout. But we can’t do more.”

With no end in sight to the rains, people all over the state of 33 million have made panic-stricken appeals on social media for help, saying they cannot make contact with rescue services.
Some say they are trapped inside temples and hospitals as well as submerged homes.
Authorities have warned that rains and strong winds are predicted for many parts of Kerala on Saturday and Sunday.
Prime Minister Modi arrived in Kerala on Friday night and held meetings with state leaders and went on a brief air inspection tour.
“I took stock of the situation arising in the wake of the devastating floods across the state,” Modi said in a Twitter statement.
An immediate grant of $75 million was offered by the government. Other state governments promised nearly $20 million.
Opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi demanded though that Modi declare the flood crisis a “national disaster.”
Dozens of military helicopters stepped up rescue operations across the state and in one a heavily pregnant woman Sajita Jabeel, 25, gave birth just after her rescue, an Indian Navy spokesman said.

“It was a very critical case, the lady was in labor, her water had broken,” the pilot, the pilot Commandeer Vijay Verma told News18 television.
“We took a doctor along, we winched her up, it took some time though because we had to winch down two people to help her get on to the strop.”
Another pilot, Captain P. Rajkumar, winched 26 people up from a rooftop after guiding the helicopter through trees and other houses.
A video of his Sea King pulling up the victims has been widely shared on social media. He ended up with 32 people in his Sea King helicopter.
Rajkumar was given the Shaurya Chakra medal for bravery this week after lifting a fisherman from the sea when cyclone Ockhi hit India last year.