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Argentine train crash toll at 50, hundreds injured

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentines desperately searched hospitals Thursday in hopes loved ones survived a train crash that killed 50 people and sent hundreds to emergency rooms. A stunned government declared two days of mourning, with flags flying at half staff across the nation.

A federal judge was leading an investigation into what caused the rush-hour commuter train to slam into a barrier at the end of the track at a downtown station, crumpling cars around 1,500 panicked riders on Wednesday.

Passengers said the train’s motorman struggled repeatedly with the brakes during the journey, overrunning platforms and missing one station entirely before crashing at the end of the line.

But the nation’s auditor general and other critics said official inaction could have contributed to the accident, noting the private Trains of Buenos Aires company failed to meet safety requirements despite years of warnings.

“Back in 2008 we had verification of dramatic and alarming brake problems,” said the auditor, Leandro Despouy. He called the accident foreseeable and preventable, noting that repeated audits had recommended ending the concession the company has held had since 1995.

The motorman, Marcos Antonio Cordoba, 28, is a five-year veteran with a good record who should have been rested because it was his first trip of the day. He remained in intensive care Thursday and had yet to make a statement, but Transportation Secretary J.P. Schiavi said investigators will also be able to pinpoint the cause through GPS devices, cameras and recordings of the motorman’s conversations with the train system’s central control room.

The city’s emergency medical director, Alberto Crescenti, praised rescuers who had to use vaseline and oil to pull the living and dead from a tangle of limbs and metal in the collapsed space where the momentum of the train shoved the first two cars together. It took hours to separate the bodies of more than 100 people, living and dead, who were compressed into a few square feet (meters).

“The image of all those people pleading with us to pull them out was very powerful,” Crescenti said.

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