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Spanish metro train derails in tunnel, 34 killed

Written by: Staff
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VALENCIA, Spain, July 3 (Reuters) At least 34 people were killed when an underground train ran off the tracks in a tunnel and overturned at high speed in the eastern Spanish city of Valencia today, officials said.

They said a wheel broke on a curve as the train approached the Jesus underground station and two carriages derailed. Another 32 people were hurt, of whom two were in critical condition.

Trapped passengers rang emergency services from mobile phones and 150 people were evacuated from the station platform.

One middle-aged woman, her face blackened by what looked like soot, grimaced with pain as she staggered away from the station, her arm around a police officer.

Officials ruled out a terror attack in a country still shaky from train bombings by Islamist militants that killed 191 people in Madrid in 2004. But Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero decided to cut short an official visit to India and return to Spain on news of the accident, his office said.

''It seems this unfortunate accident was caused by excess speed and a wheel breaking just before it entered the station,'' government official Luis Felipe Martinez told Spanish radio, adding that the number of dead was still not confirmed.

Emergency services set up two field hospitals in tents on the street and a judge arrived to supervise the removal of bodies. Hospitals appealed for blood donors.

The accident took place days before Pope Benedict was due to visit Valencia for a 'World Meeting of Families' and pilgrims were already arriving in the Mediterranean seaside city.

CATASTROPHE Thousands of yachting enthusiasts were also visiting Valencia, which is staging warm-up races for the Americas Cup.

A senior police officer at the scene said 34 people had been killed.

Police sealed off streets outside the station and crowds watched under bright blue skies as emergency crews rushed injured people into ranks of ambulances.

A 21-year-old student, Cesar Hernandez, said the train began travelling faster than usual and was shaking from side to side before it braked suddenly and the carriages derailed.

Hernandez kicked the glass out of a door and walked out into the tunnel.

''There wasn't much light and I couldn't see much of what was on the tracks. I saw people on the ground, but I just ran,'' Hernandez told newspaper El Mundo, adding that he had declined emergency service offers of trauma counselling.

''I didn't want psychological help or anything. I just wanted to see my Dad,'' he said.

In September last year, three trains crashed into each other in Valencia's Metro system, injuring 16 people.

Spanish consumer group FACUA called for an investigation into the safety of the Metro's Line One.

Today's was the worst train accident in Spain since June 2003, when 19 people were killed when a passenger train travelling to Cartagena from Madrid crashed into the path of an oncoming goods train at Chinchilla.

The Pope went to his private chapel to pray for the victims, state radio said.

''The Holy Father was immediately informed of the tragic accident in Valencia and followed the dramatic news from that city with pain and sharing. He prayed for the victims, for their families, and for all citizens caught up in this terrible event,'' said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

The mayoress of Valencia Rita Barbera told reporters the accident was ''a catastrophe, a tragedy''.

-- Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in the Vatican City.

REUTERS SHB RAI2346

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