Railway traffic resumes after deadly crash in Egypt

TAHTA (AP): Rail traffic resumed Saturday in southern Egypt, authorities said, a day after two trains collided, killing at at least two dozen people and injuring 185 others. The collision of two passenger trains in the province of Sohag, about 440 kilometers (270 miles) south of Cairo, was the latest in a series of deadly accidents involving the country’s troubled railways.

Egypt’s Minister of Health Hala Zayed said at a news conference Saturday in Cairo that the death toll could be fewer than the 32 initially released. She said the ministry had tallied 19 dead but also collected three bags of human remains that could not be immediately identified or counted. She accounted for the higher toll released Friday by saying that some unconscious victims were wrongly pronounced dead.

Video from the scene Saturday showed twisted piles of metal with passengers covered with dust trapped inside — some bleeding and others unconscious. Bystanders removed bodies and laid them on the ground nearby.

An Associated Press video journalist at the scene saw the reopening of the railway early Saturday. Authorities had replaced the rail track in the area where the collision took place. The damaged tracks and wrecked train cars were on the side of the railway. The two trains had collided Friday at the town of Tahta, causing two carriages to derail and flip on their side.

Rail officials initially said someone activated the emergency brakes on one of the trains, which was headed to the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly however said no cause has been determined. Egypt’s rail system has a history of badly maintained equipment and mismanagement, and official figures said there were 1,793 train accidents in 2017. In 2018, a passenger train derailed near the southern city of Aswan, injuring at least six people and prompting authorities to fire the country’s railway chief.

The same year, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said the government needed about 250 billion Egyptian pounds ($14.1 billion) to overhaul the rail system. Those remarks came a day after a passenger train collided with a cargo train, killing at least 12 people. A year earlier, two passenger trains collided just outside of Alexandria, killing 43. In 2016, at least 51 people were killed when two commuter trains collided near Cairo. Egypt’s deadliest train crash was in 2002, when over 300 people were killed after a fire broke out in a train traveling from Cairo to southern Egypt.

Meanwhile, nine-story apartment building collapsed in the Egyptian capital early Saturday, killing at least five people and injuring about two dozen others, an official said. Rescue workers were searching for any survivors trapped under the rubble of the building in the el-Salam neighborhood, said Khalid Abdel-Al, the administrative head of Cairo governorate.

At least 24 others were injured and taken to hospitals, he said in a statement. Police cordoned off the area, keeping back the curious and people apparently looking for relatives in the building. Workers were seen using bulldozers to clear away debris. It was not immediately clear what caused the building’s collapse. An engineering committee was formed to examine the structural integrity of neighboring buildings, Abdel-Al said.

Building collapses are not uncommon in Egypt, where shoddy construction is widespread in shantytowns, poor city neighborhoods and rural areas. With real estate at a premium in big cities like Cairo and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, developers seeking bigger profits frequently violate building permits. Extra floors often are added without proper government permits. The government has recently launched a crackdown on illegal building across the country, jailing violators and in many cases destroying the buildings.