A passenger train struck a school bus Thursday in Millas, France, near the border with Spain, killing at least four children and injuring more than 20, with 11 reportedly in critical condition, Le Monde reports.
Toutes mes pensées pour les victimes de ce terrible accident d’un bus scolaire et pour leurs familles. La mobilisation de l’État est totale pour leur porter secours.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) December 14, 2017
In the tweet above, French President Emmanuel Macron says, “All my thoughts are with the victims of this terrible school bus accident and with their families. The government is fully mobilized to provide them aid.”
Indeed, more than 150 emergency workers and four helicopters were on the scene shortly after the 4:10 PM accident. The train hit the bus at an estimated 50 mph while it was in an at-grade crossing, causing it to split into two. The train did not derail, according to news reports.
Students on the bus were teenagers and some pre-teens. They attend Christian Bourquin College, a high school in Millas, and their bus was traveling between the school and Saint-Féliu-d’Amont when the crash occurred.
Eyewitness accounts differ about the status of the gates at the crossing: “The level crossing was very visible,” the BBC quoted a regional official as saying. SNCF, which operates the train, said the crossing has an automatic barrier with standard signals—it was not considered particularly dangerous. Some witnesses also said the gates were down, according to SNCF.
An 11-year-old girl on the bus, however, was quoted as saying, “The red lights that normally flash did not come on. … The [bus] driver went through and stopped midway, and that’s when the train crashed into [the bus].”
The bus driver escaped serious injury, as did the driver of the train, and both were to be interviewed by police, the Reuters news agency reported.
The rail company, which has had to upgrade several at-grade crossings in the south of France in recent years because of numerous accidents, is said to be conducting an internal investigation into the crash, and more news may be forthcoming. About 25 people were aboard the train, which was traveling from the nearby town of Perpignan, near the Mediterranean coast.
The school says it will set up a counseling center for students Friday, and the office of Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said he would visit the school “to support students, families, teachers, and the entire educational community.”