MEXICO CITY — An old freight train known as La Bestia — the Beast — that was crowded with hundreds of Central American migrants trying to reach the U.S. derailed early Sunday in southern Mexico, killing at least five passengers and badly injuring more than a dozen others, Tabasco state officials said.
A mayor from the region, Jazmin Cano, gave a slightly higher death toll, telling the Reforma newspaper that six people were killed and 22 injured. It was possible the number of deaths would rise as the army and other rescuers continued to search the wreckage.
[Updated at 2:55 p.m. on Aug. 25: “As the work continues, there may be more bodies or more injuries, it’s hard to tell,” Cesar Burelo, head of civil defense for Tabasco state, where the accident took place, said in a television interview.
Burelo did not give a cause for the wreck. The federal attorney general’s office said it would take charge of the investigation.]
Most of the estimated 250 people on board were Hondurans, Mexican officials said. Eight of the train’s 12 cars careened off the tracks and plunged into ditches and the surrounding countryside in the southern state of Tabasco near its border with Veracruz state.
La Bestia is a notoriously dangerous but commonly used form of transportation for migrants who come into southern Mexico from Central America. They hop on board, often after being forced to pay large sums to local gangs, and travel north in hopes of being able to cross into the United States.
More and more migrants are from Honduras, Mexican officials say, because of that impoverished country’s lack of work and vicious political violence.
The journey for migrants is plagued by dangers beyond La Bestia. Every year, thousands go missing, are killed, forced into slave labor, raped or threatened by gangs that smuggle drugs and people. The gangs control nearly the entire route and often work in cahoots with local police or immigration agents.
On Sunday via Twitter, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and the Mexican Foreign Ministry offered condolences to the families of the dead and promised to aid the injured.