Pope Francis has sent his condolences to the families of the victims of Tuesday’s train crash in Italy.
Twenty-three people have been confirmed to have died and dozens more hurt after the head-on collision involving two passenger trains between the coastal towns of Bari and Barletta, in southern Italy. The trains were on a single-track line when the crash occurred.
In the telegram, sent to Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari-Bitonto, and signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis offered “his warm and heartfelt participation in the suffering” of those who were killed or injured and assured the families of his “fervent prayer of intercession for those tragically killed,” Vatican Radio reports.
He also said he was praying for the “swift healing of the wounded” and bestowed his apostolic blessing, and entrusted all those affected by the tragedy to the “maternal protection of the Virgin Mary.”
The investigation into collision is focusing in particular on the antiquated telephone alert system used to advise station masters of trains running on the single track.
Recovery operations using a giant crane and rescue dogs continued through the night and into Wednesday to remove the mangled debris of the two commuter trains that slammed into one another just before noon Tuesday amid the neat olive groves of Puglia.
After visiting the crash site, Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi declared it an “absurd” tragedy and vowed to investigate fully. His transport minister was to brief parliament on Wednesday.
Union leaders and railway police blamed human error, noting that the particular stretch of track between the towns of Andria and Corato didn’t have an automatic alert system that would engage if two trains were close by and on the same track. Rather, news reports said, the system relied on station masters phoning one another to advise of a departing train.
Italian Red Cross workers on Wednesday were shuttling family members to the morgue in Bari, the regional capial, to help identify the dead. Coroner Franco Introna told the ANSA news agency that 22 bodies were at the morgue, with a 23rd expected to arrive later from Andria.
Passengers described being thrown forward violently at the moment of impact, and then trying to free themselves from the tangle of metal, body parts and debris in the scorching midday sun.
“I don’t know what happened, it all happened so quickly, I don’t know,” one woman, eight months pregnant, told the Associated Press. “I saw my mother on the ground, my father and my sister bleeding, I don’t know, I don’t know, even I don’t know.”