At least 48 killed in Republic of Congo train crash, more than 400 hurt, health minister says

BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (AP) — Four train cars full of passengers fell into a ravine in Republic of Congo after a derailment, leaving at least 48 people dead and more than 400 others hurt, said top government officials, who on Tuesday said excessive speed caused the deadly crash.

The government also called for three days of national mourning in a Tuesday night statement issued after a meeting of top officials summoned by President Denis Sassou-Nguesso. Government spokesman Bienvenu Okiemy also said the government will pay for victims' funerals and that mourning will begin Saturday.

"According to the facts on the ground, excess speed is the main cause of this train accident," Okiemy said.

Okiemy said the death toll from Monday night's crash could still rise, as 15 people remained in critical condition and search teams could still find bodies in train cars at the bottom of the ravine. He said 405 people were known to have been hurt.

Earlier Tuesday, Health Minister Georges Moyen said 49 people were killed in the crash, following estimates from railway officials that at least 60 people were killed.

Jean Miche Ibinda, spokesman for the rail company, said the train was leaving the coastal town of Pointe-Noire and was headed to the capital, Brazzaville, when it derailed. Army and Red Cross officials rushed to the scene of the accident to help the victims, he said.

The CFCO rail line that runs for about 300 miles (510 kilometers) through the country has had difficulties in recent years with its old trains and lines.

In a statement, government officials noted that Monday's crash was the third the train company had experienced in 19 years. In 1991, a derailment killed 115 people and wounded many others in the Central African nation that is often overshadowed by its much larger neighbor, Congo.