VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico – A notorious cargo train known as “the Beast” and carrying at least 250 Central American hitchhiking migrants derailed in a remote region of southern Mexico on Sunday, killing at least five people and injuring 17, authorities said.
The train company and rescue workers were bringing in two cranes to help search for more victims among the eight derailed cars, officials said. Thousands of migrants ride the roofs of the train cars on their way north each year, braving brutal conditions for a chance at crossing into the United States.
The Tabasco state government said at least 250 Honduran migrants were on the train heading north from the Guatemala border. Heavy rains had loosened the earth beneath the tracks and shifted the rails, officials said.
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo set up a call centre for families to learn information about their loved ones.
The head of civil protection for Mexico’s Interior Department, Luis Felipe Puente, released a list of 17 Hondurans ranging in ages from 19 to 54 who were taken to two regional hospitals. Six of them were in serious condition, according to the list he published on his official Twitter account.
The locomotive and first car did not derail and were used to move victims to the nearest hospital, in the neighbouring state of Veracruz. Tabasco state Civil Protection chief Cesar Burelo Burelo said the accident happened at 3 a.m. in a marshy area surrounded by lakes and forest that is out of cellphone range.
The Red Cross said dozens of soldiers, marines and civilian emergency workers rushed to the area, which ambulances couldn’t reach. Officials were trying to establish air or water links to the scene.
Honduran diplomats also travelled to the area to help identify victims and make sure the injured were getting needed medical attention, that nation’s foreign ministry said.
Mario Bustillos Borge, the Red Cross chief in Tabasco, described the rescue as a complex situation that was making it difficult to get rapid confirmation of the exact number of dead and injured.
“There are some very high estimates, and others that are more conservative,” he told a local radio station, without providing details.
While the number of Mexicans heading to the U.S. has dropped dramatically, there has been a surge of Central Americans making the 1,000-mile northbound journey, fueled in large part by the rising violence brought to their homelands by the spread of Mexican drug cartels.
Other factors, experts say, are an easing in migration enforcement by Mexican authorities and a false perception that Mexican criminal gangs are not preying on migrants as much as they had been.
Central American migration remains small compared to the numbers of Mexicans still headed north, but steeply rising numbers speak starkly to the violence and poverty at home. The number of Hondurans deported by the U.S. government increased between to 32,000 last year from 24,000 in 2011. Authorities say it’s hard to estimate the numbers crossing north.
U.S. border agents caught 99,013 non-Mexican migrants, mostly from Central America, in the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31, nearly double the same period a year earlier and the highest since 2006. The number of migrants actually making the trip is believed to be far higher.