An intercity train accident at the Bretigny-sur-Orge train station near Paris July 12, 2013. (photo by Thierry Gorguet)
BRETIGNY-SUR-ORGE, France (AP) — A train carrying hundreds of passengers derailed and crashed into a station outside Paris on Friday on the eve of a major holiday weekend. At least seven people were believed killed and dozens were injured, the interior minister said.
The crash at Bretigny-sur-Orge station is the deadliest in France in years, and French President Francois Hollande abandoned plans in the capital to visit the scene.
Some cars slid toward the station, crushing part of the metallic roof over the platform. Images from the scene shown on French television showed gnarled metal and shards on the platform, and debris from the crash clogging the stairwell leading beneath the platform.
"I heard a loud noise. A cloud of sand covered everything," one witness, Bazgua El Mehdi, 19, who was on a nearby train, told Le Parisien newspaper.
"Then the dust dissipated. I thought it was a freight train, but then we saw the first casualties ... Many passengers on the (train) were crying."
Officials didn't comment on reports that some of the passengers may still be trapped on the train. It was unclear whether all the casualties were inside the train, or whether some had been on the platform, or how fast the train was traveling. The head of the SNCF rail authority, Guillaume Pepy, called it a "catastrophe."
The cause of the crash was under investigation. Two train cars, Nos. 3 and 4, initially derailed, then knocked the other cars off the track, Pepy said.
"Some cars simply derailed, others are leaning, others fell over," he said.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls said at least seven people are believed dead and several dozen injured, but added that the casualty toll is "in constant evolution" and could rise.
The SNCF said the train was carrying about 385 passengers when it derailed Friday evening at 5:15 p.m. (1515 GMT; 11:15 a.m. EDT) and crashed into the station at Bretigny-sur-Orge, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Paris. The train was headed from Paris to Limoges, a 400- (250-mile) kilometer journey and was about 20 minutes into what would have been a three-hour journey.
The accident came as France is preparing to celebrate its most important national holiday, Bastille Day, on Sunday, and as masses of vacationers are heading out of Paris and other big cities to see family or on summer vacation.
All trains from Paris' Gare d'Austerlitz were suspended after the accident.
A passenger speaking on France's BFM television said the train was going at a normal speed and wasn't meant to stop at Bretigny-sur-Orge. He described children unattended in the chaotic aftermath. He said there are swarms of emergency workers at the scene.
Thomas Adamson reported from Paris