JOHANNESBURG: A passenger train has smashed into a lorry at a level crossing in South Africa , killing at least 18 people, injuring 254 and throwing several carriages off the rails.
Flames ripped through the twisted wreckage and choking black smoke rose into the air as passengers clambered out of the train to escape the inferno on Thursday.
Tiaan Esterhuizen, who had been travelling on the train as he returned from holiday, said he tried to rescue three women who were trapped in a burning carriage.
“I saw around 12 cars on their side and one was already burning. We heard some women screaming when we came close to a few of us climbed over the cars,” he told.
“Two of the women were sort of on top of each other. Another was further back. Her legs were trapped. One of the women was shouting that there was a baby inside also. We searched but could not find the child I am quite sure those women burned to death.”
The transport minister, Joe Maswanganyi, said: “Police are investigating. The truck driver has been taken to hospital where we are going to do a blood test to verify if he was sober or not or what was the problem.”
The Shosholoza Meyl rail company, which operates long-distance trains in South Africa , said the train travelling from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg collided with the truck at about 9 am local time between the towns of Hennenman and Kroonstad.
It said in a statement that the truck had made an “untimely” crossing of the tracks when it was hit by the train at high speed.
One of the derailed carriages was the power generator the car behind the locomotive that powers the rest of the train . The car caught fire and flames spread rapidly.
Shosholoza Meyl said there were 429 passengers onboard.