VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico – A cargo train carrying U.S.-bound migrants derailed in a swampy area of southeastern Mexico on Sunday, killing at least five people and injuring 22, officials said.
Authorities said the death toll could rise after the train known as “The Beast,” which carries Central American migrants who pay smugglers to sit atop freight cars, careened off the track near a river in Tabasco state.
“There are five dead up to now, according to the personnel at the site,” Cesar Burelo, director of Tabasco civil protection, told Milenio television after authorities earlier reported four dead.
He said 16 people were taken to the regional hospital of Las Choapas in the neighboring state of Veracruz, which is 25 minutes away by boat.
The cause of the accident was not yet known, he said, adding that the train was also carrying scrap metal. Mexican media said the train may have been traveling too fast amid heavy rain.
The Tabasco civil protection agency said eight of the train’s 12 freight cars overturned at around 3:00 a.m. and that rescuers were using hydraulic tools to cut through the metal to find survivors.
Luis Felipe Puente, the national civil protection coordinator, said on Twitter that 22 people were hurt, down from his earlier report of 35 injuries, including 16 in serious condition.
He told Formato 21 radio that “we could possibly have more dead.”
Local officials said the accident took place far from any road in the municipality of Huimanguillo, near the state of Veracruz, and that the site was only accessible by air or boat.
A photo broadcast by Milenio television showed freight cars lying on their side with the wheels detached from the bottom. The tracks are seen in a wooded area and covered with plants.
At least two of the injured were transported lying on the wooden flatbed of a handcar – a small four-wheeled railroad vehicle – according to a picture posted on Twitter by Tabasco civil protection.
Huimanguillo civil protection and security officials told AFP that between 250 and 300 migrants were aboard the train.
At least one of dead is from Honduras, according to Tabasco civil protection. A state public security official said earlier that four were from Honduras before backpedaling and saying their nationalities were unclear.
“The Beast” carries Mexican and Central American migrants who pay smugglers upwards of $100 for the right to travel from stations near Guatemala to the north of Mexico.
Some 140,000 migrants enter Mexico illegally every year to travel to the United States, according to the National Human Rights Commission.
Migrants are exposed to many risks in their trek across Mexico.
Traffickers charge them huge sums to help them cross the border and, once in Mexico, gangs extort them for more money. They are often robbed, raped and killed by criminal groups.
President Enrique Peña Nieto unveiled a $309 billion plan in July to modernize the country’s infrastructure, including by reviving the nation’s moribund passenger train service.