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Survivors tell of rail inferno

Rescue workers
Hundreds of corpses were removed from the wreckage  

AL-AYATT, Egypt -- Survivors of Egypt's worst rail disaster, in which more than 370 people died, have described their escape from the burning, speeding train.

"The smoke was coming at us and we started screaming and knocking on the doors and at this point the fire broke into the carriage, so we opened the door and jumped while the train was in motion," survivor Mounir Gerges told CNN.

Passengers jumped from windows and doors in the middle of the night to escape the inferno as the train driver continued for several miles oblivious to the disaster unfolding in the rear carriages.

"We pushed each other and we were suffocating from the smoke. We threw each other out the windows," one survivor told Reuters from his hospital bed.

Inferno on the tracks. Journalist Sandy Petrykowski reports (February 20)

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Firefighters discovered the charred and twisted bodies throughout the half-dozen gutted carriages, many trapped between the window bars. A firefighter said some of the corpses were under seats as if people had retreated there in hopes of finding safety.

Corpses had melded together in piles on the train. Among charred luggage, a Bible, children's clothing and what appeared to be a wedding dress could be seen, Reuters reported.

It is believed the fire started when a passenger tried to light a small gas stove. Egyptians often use portable stoves to brew their own hot drinks on board trains.

Said Fuad Amin, a 22-year-old construction worker, jumped from the burning train, breaking his hand and was being treated for a suspected concussion in Ayyat.

He told The Associated Press that the first signs of trouble on the packed train were shouts and screams that he attributed to a fight. Then he saw flames and people running, including a women whose clothes were on fire.

"People were running like crazy," Amin said.

Amin ran until he found a window broken open. He hesitated at first because the train was moving fast.

About seven carriages were gutted by the fire
About seven carriages were gutted by the fire  

"I thought I was going to die anyway, so I jumped," he said.

He said he did not know what happened to friends with whom he had been travelling.

As the death toll continued to rise, security sources said it was Egypt's deadliest disaster in more than 150 years of rail history.

The director of the state-owned Egyptian Railway Authority, Ahmed al-Sherif, told AP it was the worst accident in decades.

"There has been nothing in the recent or distant past like this," he said at the scene, about 46 miles from Cairo.

"I've been with the railway for 32 years and never seen or heard of an event of this size."

Security sources said all the dead were believed to be Egyptians. Witnesses said the train was overcrowded with people heading for the countryside to spend the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday with families.

The holiday is the biggest of the Muslim year.

Each train carriage was designed to accommodate about 150 passengers but twice that number was likely to have been crammed in, police said, which would have put more than 3,000 people aboard.

Survivors said the train was so full that they were sitting on the floor. Al-Sherif put the number aboard lower, at about 1,200, but acknowledged even that figure meant the train was overcrowded.




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