MOSCOW -- A freight train toppled onto a Soviet cruise ship that crashed into a railroad bridge on the Volga River, a resident of the nearby town of Ulyanovsk said today, and the death toll could exceed 400.
'There is great chaos in the city. People are crying onthe streets,' the resident said in a telephone call to a relative in Moscow.
The caller, whose account could not be independently verified, said only 40 survivors were found as of Tuesday from Sunday's wreck of the diesel-powered Alexander Suvorov. The vessel could carry 468 passengers and a large crew.
According to the latest account, a freight train toppled onto the hapless cruiser when the four-deck ship struck a railroad bridge spanning the river Sunday night.
A spokesman for the Soviet travel agency Intourist said Tuesday the riverboat rammed into railway bridge, tearing off the top deck crowded with passengers watching a movie.
The ships command may have failed to negotiate the opening in the bridge or incorrectly gauged the level of the river, which is less than a mile wide at Ulyanovsk, the Intourist official said. He said the death toll was at least 100.
There has been no accounts of the disaster in the Soviet press beyond an announcement from the government and the Communist Party expressing sympathy for the families of the dead.
The official statement was unusual in itself, since Soviet authorities generally keep such disasters quiet unless foreigners are involved. There were none in this case, the spokesman for the Intourist state travel agency said.
Another indication of the scope of the tragedy was the appointment of a panel headed by a full Politburo member, First Deputy Premier Geydar Aliyev, to investigate the accident.
It included officials of the Railways Ministry, adding weight to reports that a train was involved.
The Suvorov, Czech-built, was named after an 18th-century field marshal who led Russian forces as far as Switzerland in Tsarist battles against post-revolutionary France.
It was wrecked some 450 miles east of Moscow, near Ulyanovsk, the birthplace of Bolshevik founder Vladimir Lenin.
The river, which is more than 20 miles wide nearby, narrows at Ulyanovsk, where a bridge carries road and train traffic across the river.