The International Writers Magazine: From Our Vigo Correspondent
A Country Mourns
Pilar Montoiro, a housewife in the town of Angrois in the province of Corunna, Spain was sorting out her washing in the garden just outside her house a few yards from the main railway tracks. Although used to hearing the sound of an approaching train, this time round she immediately sensed something was wrong.
She ran over to the fence. ‘The train was travelling at full speed, squirting sparks. I could see it was going to come off the rails.’ It was the high speed train from Madrid to Corunna that had left Orense and was about to enter the city of Santiago. The nightmare began within seconds as seven carriages and two engines lay strewn on one side of the track. The time and date was 20:40, the 24th of July. Within minutes, the news spread across the globe. Pilar was in shock.
||Santiago de Compostela is the capital of Galicia and apart from the seat of the autonomous government and one of the most prestigious universities in Spain it is also renowned for its famous Cathedral and the supposed resting place of St. James, the patron saint of the country. People from all over the world travel the year round on a pilgrimage on various routes that lead to the cathedral.
Martin Sheen, the Hollywood film star is Galician and his real name is Ramon Antonio Gerard Estevez. In 2010 his son Emilio Estevez directed and wrote the script for an award winning movie called ‘The Way’. It is a beautiful story about a group of pilgrims who complete the adventurous journey suffering and enjoying every mile of the way.
The very next day, the 25th of July was St. James’ day and the city was all ready to start the yearly celebrations. The doomed train was carrying several persons from different parts of the world that were hoping to join the festivities. Others were returning home to enjoy their yearly holidays.
Before the crash, crowds had already gathered in the main square, the technicians were ready to press the button to set off the monumental fireworks display, yet more important, and as luck would have it, most of the backup services such as police, firemen, ambulances and paramedics were ready in case of any emergencies. Little did they know what was in store for them.
Back at the town of Angrois, Pilar was soon joined by neighbors Ricardo Martinez, Ramon Rivas and Isidoro Castaño. Between them they tore down the fencing and rushed out onto the tracks. ‘I couldn’t stop running from one end to the other rescuing as many as I could,’ said Ricardo. ‘I held a small child in my arms that couldn’t stop asking for my name, even later when I visited her in the hospital,’ added Ramón.
|Meanwhile, more townsfolk turned up with blankets and towels to cover the dead bodies strewn across the tracks. It wasn’t long before the army of rescuers turned up to take over the heavy workload of saving as many lives as possible and trying to put out the fire that had started in one of the engine fuel tanks. Forty-eight year old fireman José Ramón Baliñas, whose photograph holding a small injured girl flashes across the world said, ‘I have never seen anything like it. We soon knew we were faced with a tremendous tragedy.’
Meanwhile back at the city thousands of citizens began to sense that something was very wrong. Those waiting at the station for the arrival at the train were the most anxious. It didn’t take long for the first set of information to filter through as more and more news of casualties were given thanks to the arrival of the local Galician television vans, that began reporting live on the accident just 3 miles away. The hospitals were on the ready and hundreds of blood donors began to turn up at the Red Cross not only in Santiago but at other centers throughout Galicia. Doctors and nurses who were on leave turned up to offer their assistance. Even some hospital patients that were well enough to be discharged volunteered to go home. The rescue efforts were now well under way and the coordination could not have been more efficient. Police began controlling the curious crowds whilst making way for the ambulances and fire engines. The paramedics on the tracks were assisted by the local town-folk making sure that the injured were given prompt first aid. In the meantime, firemen kept breaking into the windows of the stricken carriages pulling out bodies and injured as best they could. There was no panic, or disorder just sheer guts and efficiency. In the meantime, condolences were received from all over the world as well as Spain as the news was broadcast on most international television channels. Dignitaries began to arrive including members of the Royal Family to pay their respects and console the bereaved families. A plethora of psychiatrists were taking care of those most in need.
The immediate aftermath is well known. 78 persons died and 33 of the remaining injured are still in critical condition, 4 of them small children. The train was travelling at 190 Kms/hour along an 80Km/hour stretch. The investigation has just started and will take months if not years. Most of the details have been reported in the press. On the other hand and apart from the victims, the future consequences may have wider repercussions and are very uncertain. This I fear is yet another addition to Spain’s present woes.
I have personally lived the tragedy first hand as I happen to live in Vigo which is about 50 miles from Santiago and know Galicia and the area very well. When the news first came through I couldn’t believe it. My natural reaction was to check on my own family as my son Michael, who lives on a farm in a nearby village often travels on the same route from Orense although he boards one of the local trains and usually at halfway. Next step was to advise friends and relatives that we were all OK. I received numerous e-mails as well as the odd call from around the world. No need to expand on the tragedy.
Suffice to say that for the first time in years the citizens of Spain forgot about the corruption, the economy, the politics, the independence movements and all the other chaos that reigns at the moment.
For the time being, I have done the same. When the dust settles and life gets back to normal, ‘We’ll meet again.’
© James G. Skinner. August 2013.
12th August Update
Three main issues so far this month (aside from generating hysteria over Gibraltar) are Rajoy (PM) has failed to convince the public and is in deep trouble over the Barcenas affair as more information comes to light on the 'backhanders' to members of the Conservative Party (including Rajoy) by this individual who was treasurer back in the 90's. (Hence stirring the pot over the Rock to distract)
The other corruption affair, which is more serious, but involves far more politicians (including regional government individuals) from the Socialists (PSOE) down in Andalucia, is to do with massive fraud of public funds. Dear (Joan of Ark) Judge Alaya (see my earlier essay on her) is coming under flak from the party. Finally Catalonia 'freedom' movement has passed the point of no return and heaven only knows what will happen next. The Basque country awaits in the wings; latest is that there is a possible 'hand-over' of weapons from ETA. A real political move by their legal representation as they move towards running their own independence movement. Fun and games await as the IMF and EU continue to tell Spain to cut back on wages and other financial issues.
Have We Got A Deal?
I’ve said all along that a major solution for Spain’s political problems is a pact between the conservatives (PP) and the main opposition party, the socialists (PSOE).