A passenger train traveling through Ethiopia hurtled off the...

Jan. 14, 1985
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NAIROBI, Kenya -- A passenger train traveling through Ethiopia hurtled off the tracks and four cars plunged into a deep ravine, killing 392 people and injuring 370 others in Africa's worst rail disaster, authorities said Monday.

The cars derailed Sunday as the train was traveling across a 40-foot bridge near Awash, about 90 miles east of the capital of Addis Ababa, on the railway line linking Addis Ababa to the neighboring Republic of Djibouti, the state-run Ethiopian News Agency said. It said the train was traveling from Dire Dawa in Ethiopia.

The 500-mile railway, which recently has carried emergency food aid from overseas to Ethiopia's drought victims, is an essential link to the Red Sea, and is run jointly by the two countries.

Because of the distance and poor communications, details on the accident were sketchy but ENA said 392 people were killed and 370 injured.

The agency, monitored in Nairobi, said the train driver was in custody pending an investigation led by Transport and Communications Minister Yussuf Ahmed.

A funeral was held Monday near Awash for 282 of the victims, the agency said. The remains of the other 110 were taken away for burial by their families and relatives.

Western diplomats in Addis Ababa, reached by telephone from Nairobi, said several cars on the train separated from the locomotive, hurtled off the line and fell into a deep ravine.

Helicopters were used to rescue survivors, an Ethiopian railway official said. Health Ministry, Red Cross, hospital workers and members of the Ethiopian army were all involved in the rescue effort, ENA said.

A high-level team of party and government officials inspected the crash site and visited the wounded, who were being treated at a nearby hospital.

Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile Mariam and his officials have claimed in the past the line was subject to attack by anti-government guerrillas but diplomats ruled out sabotage as a cause of the crash.

The 67-year-old, French-built railway was closed for several weeks in January 1984 after attacks claimed by the Western Somali Liberation Front, and was closed for a year between 1977 and 1978 during the height of the Ogaden Desert war between Somalia and Ethiopia.

The diplomats said the site of the disaster was more than 200 miles from the Somali border where the guerrillas are based.

With 392 dead, the train disaster was the worst in Ethiopian and African history.

Africa's previous worst train wreck was in 1982 when 130 people died near Algiers, Algeria. The world's worst reported train accident killed 500 to 800 people in Torro Tunnel at Leon, Spain, on Jan. 16, 1944.

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