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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fire Kills 366 in Egyptian Train Disaster

AL-AYATT, Egypt -- Fire ripped through a crowded train near Cairo on Wednesday, killing 366 passengers in the deadliest disaster in Egyptian rail history.

People jumped from windows and doors to escape the flames and smoke that engulfed the train as it rolled on for several kilometers before coming to a stop, the wind fanning the blaze, security sources said.

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

Charred bodies lay trapped in carriages and wedged between metal bars crossing the windows. Their features were burned black beyond recognition.

It took firefighters several hours to put out the blaze that raged through seven carriages of the train near the town of al-Ayatt, about 70 kilometers south of the capital.

Security sources said it was the deadliest disaster in more than 150 years of Egyptian rail travel.

One rescue worker said the death toll could rise above 400, as body after body was pulled from the wreckage.

The official Middle East News Agency said initial investigations showed the fire started when a passenger tried to light a small gas stove. Egyptians often use portable stoves to brew their own tea and coffee on train journeys.

Rescue workers wearing paper masks fought through the stench of burnt flesh to lift bodies from the train.

Scattered on the ground outside the train were the scorched remains of clothes and shoes, singed papers and notebooks.

The train had been heading from Cairo to Luxor in the south of the country.

The train was an old, slow-moving model used mostly by poor Egyptians. It stopped at nearly every station because it was also used to carry daily newspapers to towns and villages along the River Nile.

Train disasters occur almost yearly in Egypt.

Passengers are often packed into cramped compartments like cattle. In some simple trains, people take livestock such as chickens or geese into the carriages. Compartments are also stuffed with luggage for long-haul journeys.