BRETIGNY-SUR-ORGE, France — A train carrying hundreds of passengers derailed and crashed into a station outside Paris on Friday on the eve of a major holiday weekend. At least six people were killed and dozens were injured, including nine in critical condition, the Interior Ministry said.
The crash at Bretigny-sur-Orge station was the deadliest in France in years, and President Francois Hollande abandoned plans in the capital to visit the scene.
Some cars slid toward the station, crushing part of the metallic roof over the platform. Images from the scene on French television showed gnarled metal and shards on the platform, and debris from the crash clogging the stairwell leading beneath the platform.
“The train was unrecognizable. There was nothing, but metal scraps,” 20-year-old accounting apprentice Ben Khelifa told The Associated Press. His commuter train was on the adjacent track.
“The train just collapsed, just like that, on its side… There was blood,” Khelifa said.
He added that he was one of a number of passengers in the adjacent train that went to help pull trapped survivors out of the wreckage.
“People were screaming, people were asking where their children were,” he said.
Another witness, Bazgua El Mehdi, 19, told Le Parisien newspaper, “I heard a loud noise. A cloud of sand covered everything,”
“Then the dust dissipated. I thought it was a freight train, but then we saw the first casualties … Many passengers on the (train) were crying.”
It was unclear whether all the casualties were inside the train, or whether some had been on the platform, or how fast the train was traveling. The head of the SNCF rail authority, Guillaume Pepy, called it a “catastrophe.”
The cause of the crash was under investigation. The train’s third and fourth cars initially derailed, which then knocked the other cars off the track, Pepy said.
“Some cars simply derailed, others are leaning, others fell over,” he said.
The Interior Ministry said six people died in the crash and nine were in critical condition. Earlier, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said seven people had been killed.
The SNCF said the train was carrying about 385 passengers when it derailed Friday evening at 5:15 p.m. (1515 GMT; 11:15 a.m. EDT) and crashed into the station at Bretigny-sur-Orge, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Paris. The train was headed from Paris to Limoges, a 400-kilometer (250-mile) journey, and was about 20 minutes into what would have been a three-hour journey.
The accident came as France is preparing to celebrate its most important national holiday, Bastille Day, on Sunday, and as masses of vacationers are heading out of Paris and other big cities to see family or on summer vacation.
All trains from Paris’ Gare d’Austerlitz were suspended after the accident.
A passenger speaking on France’s BFM television said the train was going at a normal speed and wasn’t meant to stop at Bretigny-sur-Orge. He described children unattended in the chaotic aftermath.
AP writer Thomas Adamson contributed to this report from Paris.