Moscow: A morning commute ended in darkness, smoke and mayhem for passengers on the Moscow Metro when a train derailed underground, killing at least 20 people and injuring more than 100 others.
Witnesses described being suddenly heaved out of their seats and landing in piles in the centre of the cars as three derailed and jackknifed in a tunnel about 180 metres from the Slavyansky Boulevard stop.
All the fatalities were in the lead car of the train, a deputy mayor said. Television footage showed it crumpled as other cars pushed into it from behind. Passengers posted mobile phone images of people walking through a tunnel to safety.
A survivor is carried from the Moscow Metro after a train derailed. Photo: AFP
The cause was not immediately clear. The authorities blamed a power failure, a botched emergency stop or a mechanical flaw with a wheel chassis. Spokesman for the federal Investigative Committee Vladimir Markin ruled out terrorism.
"I was flung into the centre of the wagon," an unidentified passenger told the television station LifeNews. "A panic ensued. The train literally was torn apart, the wagons crumpled and a lot of people were injured and some wound up squeezed" between bent metal debris.
News website Lenta.ru quoted another unidentified passenger who described a "sudden braking, the lights went out, sparks and heavy smoke", and added: "Everybody was thrown to one side."
Rescue workers carry an injured passenger from the metro station. Photo: Reuters
Firefighters reached the wreck within six minutes, the website reported. Rescue workers evacuated more than 1000 people from the area of the accident, the Emergencies Ministry said. Injured passengers were carried on stretchers, bloodied and bandaged, out of both metro stations.
But so mangled was the wreckage that 12 hours later, two bodies remained stuck in the crumpled train car, Rossiya 24 television reported.
The television station, citing health officials, said 21 people had died. The Investigative Committee put the toll at 20. The authorities said scores of the injured were in grave condition.
Rescue teams work inside the tunnel where the train derailed. Photo: AP
The accident was the worst loss of life in the Moscow Metro since twin suicide bombings in 2010, carried out by female terrorists from the region of Dagestan, that killed 39 people during morning rush hour.
The Echo of Moscow radio station interviewed a train conductor debunking the theory that a loss of electrical power could have caused a derailing. He said an electrical commuter train would coast to a safe stop in that case.
The news agency Interfax cited an unidentified official who was described as being close to the investigation as saying a wheel assembly had come loose from the lead car's undercarriage.
The train was travelling at 70km/h at about 8.35am. The derailment closed one of the heaviest-travelled lines of the Moscow Metro, the Arbat-Pokrovsky line, which bisects the centre of the city and carries on average 733,000 people a day. About 9 million people ride the Moscow Metro each weekday. Famed for its high-vaulted halls adorned with Soviet socialist realist art, the underground network has expanded from 13 stations opened in 1935 to 194 stations.
President Vladimir Putin, who was in Brazil for a summit meeting, ordered a criminal investigation and offered condolences to the families of the dead.
New York Times, Reuters