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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mozambique Rail Disaster Kills 196

MAPUTO, Mozambique -- The worst rail disaster in Mozambique's history occurred after a railroad worker used four large stones to unsuccessfully keep a packed passenger train from sliding down a hill, a railway official said Sunday.

Meanwhile, funerals began for some of the 196 people killed in the crash, and health officials pleaded for blood donations for the 400 others who were injured.

The crash of a train carrying passengers and freight to South Africa happened about 5 a.m. Saturday at the town of Moamba, about 60 kilometers north of the capital, Maputo.

The train developed a mechanical fault as it tried to climb a hill, so the driver disconnected the passenger section of the train, which was already partially up the hill, from the freight train, said Antonio Libombo, an official with the Mozambican Railway Company.

The driver wedged four large stones under the wheels of the passenger train to keep it from sliding backward and then drove the freight train back to a nearby station, Libombo said. However, the stones gave way and the passenger train barreled down the tracks into the freight train, he said.

"An investigation is still under way," Transport Minister Tomas Salomao said. "But at first glance, the crash was caused by a human error."

Rescue workers toiled furiously throughout Saturday to free many victims who had remained trapped in the wreckage. By Sunday, all the bodies had been removed and the wreckage was cleared, Salomao told Radio Mozambique. Regular train services were to restart on the tracks soon, he said.

Mozambique President Joachim Chissano declared the accident a national tragedy and declared three days of mourning. He planned to visit the crash site Sunday.

Chissano asked Mozambicans to donate blood for the injured. Centers were set up throughout the capital and by Sunday morning 450 people had donated.

Chissano cut short a visit to his hometown Saturday to rush back to Maputo to tour the hospital were the injured were being treated.

"Mozambicans, my fathers, everybody, let us provide assistance to the injured people," he said as he toured the hospital Saturday.

Funerals for some of the victims were being held Sunday in Moamba and several border towns. Local civic organizations were helping with burial arrangements and many people in this impoverished southern African country had gathered money together to help buy coffins for the victims.

The railroad has also promised financial assistance to the families of those killed.

Mozambican television showed footage Saturday of a pile of bodies lying next to the train tracks, and soldiers and police searching for more victims.

The train, which can hold more than 1,000 people, was popular with Mozambicans heading to South Africa for the weekend. Most of the dead and injured were thought to be Mozambican.

Many of the injured were taken to the hospital in Maputo in private cars and some died along the way.

Fatal railway crashes blamed on human error occur fairly frequently in Mozambique.