A speeding express train was derailed on a bridge in central Ethiopia, and four passenger cars tumbled into a 40-foot ravine, killing 392 people, Ethiopia’s state radio reported Monday night.
Other estimates put the death toll as high as 449.
The broadcast, monitored in Nairobi, said 373 people were injured in the wreck Sunday afternoon near Awash, about 125 miles east of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. That first government mention of the wreck came almost 24 hours after it occurred.
The locomotive engineer was arrested, the state radio said. Ethiopian relief officials said he apparently failed to slow down while negotiating the curve of the bridge.
Air force helicopters evacuated those seriously hurt, and the Ethiopian Red Cross organized an emergency rescue effort. Scores of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel were at the scene.
Relief workers in the capital said emergency teams were caring for survivors until they could be flown to hospitals in Addis Ababa and Nazareth, a town about 60 miles to the southeast.
Rail traffic between Addis Ababa and Djibouti was halted, but a railway official said that was not expected to severely hamper the shipment of famine-relief supplies for drought-stricken Ethiopians. The hardest-hit famine areas are in the north and are being supplied through the Ethiopian Red Sea port of Assab, not through Djibouti.
The casualty figures cited by the Voice of Revolutionary Ethiopia were lower than those given by relief workers, who said 449 people were killed. Railway officials in neighboring Djibouti quoted company communications as saying 418 were killed and 559 injured out of a total of about 1,000 passengers riding in five coaches.
No Mention of Foreigners There was no mention of any foreign passengers, officials of the Ethio-Djibouti Railway Co. said in Djibouti.
The train was traveling from Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia to Addis Ababa, about 220 miles to the west, when it was derailed at 1:40 p.m. between the stations of Arba and Khora, according to railway representative Ahmed Duala.
“There is no suspicion of sabotage,” one Ethiopian relief official said in answering speculation about rebel groups who have attacked the railway in the past.
A funeral for 282 of the victims was held in Awash, attended by a high-level delegation of the Marxist ruling party and government officials, the state-run Ethiopian News Agency said. The bodies of the 110 other passengers killed in the derailment were claimed by relatives, it added.
The railway, extending from Addis Ababa to Djibouti’s free port on the Gulf of Aden, was formerly run by the French, who built the line in 1917. It is now equally owned and operated by Ethiopia and Djibouti, which became independent from France in 1977.
The line was attacked on the Ethiopian side last February by assailants armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, killing at least 17 passengers. Somalia-based rebels claimed responsibility for the incident, which Ethiopian authorities never acknowledged.
The pro-Soviet Ethiopian regime is battling two active secessionist struggles in the northern regions of Tigre and Eritrea and an on-again, off-again guerrilla movement of ethnic Somali tribesmen fighting for the independence of the eastern Ogaden region.