49 killed in Egypt school bus tragedy: officials
CAIRO, Egypt (UPDATED) - Dozens of nursery school children were among 49 people killed Saturday, November 17, when a train smashed into their bus in central Egypt after a railway signal operator fell asleep, officials said, prompting protests and resignations.
Transport Minister Rashad al-Metini stepped down in the wake of the tragedy, saying he "accepts responsibility," while President Mohamed Morsi also accepted the resignation of the Egyptian Railway Authority head.
"There are now 49 deaths and 18 injuries," with almost all of the casualties children, Assiut provincial governor Yehya Keshk told state television.
The bus taking 60 children aged between 4 and 6 on a school trip organized by their nursery was struck on a railway crossing in Manfalut, 356 kilometers (220 miles) south of Cairo, police said.
The worker manning the level crossing -- which had been left open -- was asleep when the bus tried to cross the tracks, Keshk said. "He has been arrested of course."
"There is a team of 45 doctors looking after the injured children," Keshk said.
Parents of the children were staging angry demonstrations near the scene of the horrific accident, demanding the death penalty for those responsible, police said.
A state television correspondent described the scene as "terrifying" with the blood-splattered bodies of children on the ground, before they were taken to nearby Manfalut hospital.
Morsi has ordered the prime minister, the defense and health ministers and the Assiut governor "to offer all assistance to the families of the victims," the official news agency MENA said.
"On my and the Egyptian people's behalf, I offer my sincerest condolences to the families," said a message on Morsi's Twitter account.
Prime Minister Hisham Qandil headed to Assiut, its governor Keshk told state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper's website.
The railway network's poor safety record stems largely from lack of maintenance and poor management. In Egypt's deadliest railway tragedy, the bodies of over 360 passengers were recovered from a train after a fire in 2002.
Keshk has ordered the "formation of a fact-finding committee" to probe Saturday's accident, but in similar tragedies in the past, such panels have done little to shed light on the details and less still to bring about accountability.
Ordinary Egyptians have long complained that the government has failed to deal with the country's chronic transport problems, with roads as poorly maintained as train lines.
Earlier this month, five people were killed and dozens injured when two trains collided in Fayyum province, southwest of Cairo. A month earlier, 28 police died in the Sinai peninsula when the driver of their bus lost control of the wheel.
Egypt's deadliest train accident took place in the village of Al-Ayyat in February 2002 when a train travelling from Cairo to Luxor caught fire after a cooking gas cylinder exploded on one of its carriages.
Trains are often overcrowded in Egypt, particularly in lower-paying carriages, adding to the safety hazard. - Agence France-Presse