MEXICO CITY (NewsNation Now) — The death toll from the collapse of an overpass on the Mexico City metro rose to 24 Tuesday as crews untangled train carriages from the steel and concrete wreckage that fell onto a roadway.
Monday night’s accident was one of the deadliest in the history of the subway, and questions quickly arose about the structural integrity of the mass transit system, among the world’s busiest.
Accompanied by officials involved in the construction and maintenance of the elevated metro line that collapsed, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the investigation should be done quickly and that nothing should be hidden from the public.
“There’s no impunity for anyone,” he told a news conference The city has been governed since the turn of the century by former mayor Lopez Obrador and his allies.
The crash has raised wider questions about safety on one of the world’s busiest metro systems, which carries millions of people daily across an urban sprawl home to over 20 million people.
Firefighters using heavy chains to stabilize the site pulled bodies and survivors from the wreckage before lowering one dangling carriage onto a truck in the afternoon. Another 27 people remained hospitalized of the more than 70 injured when the support beams collapsed about 10:30 p.m. as a train passed along the elevated section, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said.
On Tuesday, a crane carefully lowered a train car containing four bodies to the ground.
Of the 24 killed, 21 died at the scene, while the others died at hospitals. Only five have been identified so far. Children were among the fatalities, Sheinbaum said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Carlos Miramar waited under a tent on metal chairs with two other relatives to receive the body of his uncle. The 25-year-old student had been awake since beginning an “exasperating” odyssey the previous night that took them to seven hospitals and multiple prosecutor’s offices in search of his uncle.
Now they had found 38-year-old Carlos Pineda, a man he described as a soccer fan and buoyant personality. Pineda is survived by his wife, two children ages 7 and 13, and his mother.
“I’m tired and unable to sleep,” Miramar said. “He didn’t deserve this end. He was a good father, good husband and good son.”
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Initial analysis pointed to a “presumed structural failure,” Sheinbaum said, promising a thorough and independent inquiry. She added that a Norwegian firm had been hired to investigate.
“I did not have any report nor alert of any problem that could have led us to this situation,” she said.
Monserrat, 26, said she was at the back of the train wagon when she heard a loud noise and the lights went out.
Everybody screamed and we fell on top of each other,” she told Mexican radio, speaking from the Belisario Dominguez hospital where she was receiving treatment for an injured rib.
Outside hospitals, family members grew frustrated waiting for information on relatives, including some who were still missing.
Angelica Cruz Camino, 31, said she had not heard from her husband since he was on his way home from work around 10:30 pm on Monday. She visited several hospitals and was told all victims were identified but she still had not located him by Tuesday afternoon.
“I called and called but he wasn’t answering me. Then it was my son who realized the metro collapsed,” she said outside Tlahuac public hospital. “I cannot find my husband.”
The overpass was about 16 feet above the road in the borough of Tlahuac, but the train ran above a concrete median strip, which apparently lessened the casualties among motorists.
Abelardo Sánchez, a 38-year-old cook, was just closing up his sandwich shop beside the metro line when he said the ground shook, a tremendous noise echoed, lights flickered and the air filled with dust and the smell of burning wires.
Stunned, Sánchez didn’t initially react. “Then a guy in a white shirt with blood on his arms, his hands and chest came out and another guy came to help him here on the sidewalk, and he was there trembling,” he said.
The Mexico City Metro — which is among the world’s cheapest with tickets costing about 25 cents —has had at least three serious accidents since its inauguration half a century ago. In March 2020, a collision between two trains at the Tacubaya station left one passenger dead and injured 41. In 2015, a train that did not stop on time crashed into another at the Oceania station, injuring 12. In October 1975, at least 26 people were killed in another accident.
A magnitude 7.1 earthquake in 2017 exposed dangerous construction defects in the elevated line near where Monday’s accident occurred. Authorities at the time had done patchwork repairs on the columns and horizontal beams.
Julio Yañez, a 67-year-old lawyer whose apartment overlooks the collapsed metro line, was working at his computer when he heard a loud noise and felt his building shake. He saw a cloud of dust and falling debris followed by an eerie silence until emergency vehicles began arriving. Helicopters landed at a nearby Walmart to ferry the injured to hospitals.
The scene shook him because he had exited the metro at that same station earlier in the day.
“That part there was already declared bad … in the earthquake, and the authorities didn’t pay attention,” Yañez said, noting similar problems were reported at another nearby station, but nothing was done. “They are time bombs.”
The collapse occurred on Line 12, the subway’s newest, that stretches to the city’s south side. Like many of the dozen subway lines, it runs underground through more central areas of the city of 9 million but is on elevated concrete structures on the outskirts.
It was built almost a decade ago when Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard was mayor of Mexico City.
“What happened today with the Metro is a terrible tragedy. My solidarity is with the victims and their families,” Ebrard said on Twitter. “Of course, the causes must be investigated and responsibilities defined.”
Ebrard and Sheinbaum are seen by many political observers as the most likely successors to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador once his six-year term is over in 2024.
Investigations will be carried out by both the attorney general’s office and an external auditor, the government said.
The crash has raised questions about safety on one of the world’s busiest metro systems, which spreads across a vast urban sprawl that is home to over 20 million people.
The line was closed Tuesday and hundreds of buses were called in. Thousands in surrounding neighborhoods lined up before dawn to catch the buses for work.