MEXICO CITY — A metro overpass collapsed late Monday in Mexico City, sending the cars of a train packed with passengers plunging to the ground and killing at least 23 people, including children, the city’s mayor said.
Emergency workers scrambled to a scene where tilted train cars lay amid tangled wires and twisted metal, pulling dozens of people from the wreckage and transporting more than 70 people to hospitals with injuries.
Dramatic video of the incident showed the overpass suddenly collapsing in a shower of sparks, sending up a cloud of debris as one of the train cars smashed into a vehicle on the road below.
In the chaotic aftermath, desperate relatives flocked to the scene for news of their loved ones, while others scoured city hospitals in hopes of finding their family members.
“I’m looking for my son,” the mother of a 13-year-old boy told a local television station through tears. “He was on the subway — I can’t find him.”
Many families were directed to the Belisario Dominguez Hospital, about a quarter of a mile away, where they waited for updates on the victims.
Floodlights illuminated the collapsed bridge as search and rescue teams tried to find survivors in the rubble. Ambulances, firefighters, the military and Mexico’s forensic department came and went from the scene while a helicopter hovered overhead as dawn broke.
By sunrise on Tuesday, the search for survivors had largely turned into a recovery operation, with four of the victims’ bodies still trapped in the wreckage, according to government officials.
“It is sad news,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who vowed that a thorough investigation would be carried out. “We send our condolences to the families of the victims of this accident.”
The crash occurred at 10:22 p.m. on one of the city’s newest stretches of track, Line 12, which was inaugurated in 2012. Local residents had expressed concern about the structural integrity of the overpass, including cracks in the concrete, after a powerful earthquake devastated parts of the city in September 2017.
Hernando Manon, 42, who lives in the area, said that he was one of many people who had noticed cracks in the concrete after the earthquake. Although the cracks appeared to have been removed, he said, he did not know the extent of any repairs.
Local officials did not address specific concerns in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s accident, but Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said that maintenance was carried out on the train line every day. The system as a whole has been plagued by problems in recent years.
“At this moment, we can’t speculate about what happened,” Ms. Sheinbaum told reporters early Tuesday. “There has to be a deep investigation, and whoever is responsible has to be held responsible.”
In the meantime, she said, Line 12 would remain closed as the authorities investigate the cause of the accident. Mexico City Metro advised people to avoid the area.
Ms. Sheinbaum did not rule out the possibility of further incidents on the damaged train line, and said that the avenue that runs below the line would be shut down during an investigation.
Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, called the crash a “terrible tragedy” in a Twitter post late Monday. “Of course, the causes should be investigated and the responsibilities for it defined.”
Mr. Ebrard was mayor of Mexico City from 2006 to 2012, when the new line was constructed, and accusations of poor construction and planning emerged almost as soon as it was opened. The line was closed briefly in 2013 for repairs.
Hundreds of police officers and firefighters cordoned off the scene on Tuesday morning as relatives and friends of people believed to have been on the train gathered outside the security perimeter to seek information.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, officials confirmed that at least 23 people had died in the accident, including a number of minors. Authorities released the names of more than 70 injured people taken to local hospitals.
But for some, the search for their loved ones was just beginning.
“I’m looking for my son,” Marisol Tapia told reporters at the scene of the accident through sobs. “I can’t find him anywhere, in any of the ambulances.”
Hours later, her 13-year-old son, Brandon Giovani Hernández Tapia, was still missing: Ms. Tapia and her mother were growing desperate, unsure if he was dead or alive.
“I went to all the hospitals and they say he’s not there,” she told reporters gathered back at the crash site later on Tuesday morning for a news conference with opposition politicians. “The metro wasn’t built on it’s own — this flaw has been there for a long time and no one did anything.”
On social media, families searched for any scrap of news about missing people. Details of those injured began to emerge, but the dead remained unnamed. Four bodies had been trapped inside one of the train carriages, according to Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum.
“All the support will be given to the victims,” Ms. Sheinbaum said during a morning news conference, noting that 15 of the dead had yet to be identified. “Our solidarity with all the family members who lost someone.”
A total of 79 injured people had been taken to hospitals, according to Ms. Sheinbaum, two of whom later died. Five of the injured had not yet been identified, the mayor said, but among those hospitalized were three minors and three elderly people.
Some witnesses to the event were also injured.
“I was going to my mother’s house and a large stone fell on me,” Esmeralda Serrano, 21, who lives in a neighborhood near where the crash occurred, told El País, a Spanish-language newspaper.
Late on Tuesday morning, cries for help to find the missing were still pouring onto social media, while the hashtag #NosFaltan23 or ‘We’re missing 23’ became a rallying cry.
“Friends I need your help, we can’t find her (Nancy Lezama Salgado),” wrote one user on Twitter. “She was also on the subway, we’ve only found her sister, please share.”
Government officials, including those who were involved in the fatal subway line’s construction and maintenance, sent their condolences to the families of the victims.
“It is the most terrible accident we have ever had,” said Marcelo Ebrard, the country’s foreign minister who was mayor when the now-collapsed line was first built, at a news conference. “A very sad day for Mexico City, for everyone.”
An overpass in Mexico City collapsed on Monday night, sending a packed train plummeting to the street, killing and injuring scores of people.
Their rivalry has long been a subject of speculation by pundits, and on Tuesday, two of Mexico’s brightest political stars were in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
After the deadly subway train crash in Mexico City, public anger on Tuesday turned toward the city’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, and a former mayor who is now Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard.
Both are widely seen as possible successors to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
“Absolutely nothing will be hidden,” Mr. López Obrador said at a news conference on Tuesday morning. “The people of Mexico must know the whole truth.”
But even as the president spoke, the political fallout was evident at his news conference. Both Ms. Sheinbaum and Mr. Ebrard faced harsh questioning from reporters: she for the possible failure to detect faults that led to the deadly crash, and he for overseeing the construction of a subway line plagued by accusations of mismanagement and corruption.
Publicly, at least, the two political heavyweights presented a united front.
“We are in agreement to get to the bottom of this and work together to find the truth and know what caused this incident,” said Ms. Sheinbaum, who avoided blaming any government figures for the accident.
Mr. Ebrard, asked whether he feared being held ultimately responsible for the tragic accident, denied any wrongdoing and said he would cooperate with the investigation.
“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” he said. “Like anyone else, I am subject to whatever the authorities determine, but even more so as a high-level official, as someone who promoted the construction of the line.”
Mr. Ebrard was mayor of Mexico City from 2006 to 2012, and the subway line, known as the Golden Line, was one of the landmark projects of his administration.
The crash occurred a month before legislative elections that the governing party, known as Morena, is expected to dominate. Mr. López Obrador — also a former mayor of the capital — has a high approval rating throughout the country but is less popular in Mexico City.
Ms. Sheinbaum and Mr. Ebrard are both members of Morena, and both are vying to succeed Mr. López Obrador as president when his term ends in 2024.
Mr. López Obrador, who campaigned on improving Mexico’s infrastructure, has spearheaded ambitious public transportation projects since taking office in 2018, including nearly 1,000 miles of railway stretching across Mexico. He has sought to create a legacy through several landmark projects and, soon after taking office, stopped the construction of a half-built airport that a rival party had started to build for Mexico City.
Even though the construction was advanced and the government had spent billions of dollars on the airport, Mr. López Obrador scrapped it to build another airport at a different location, reimagining the project in his name.
Yet the president’s flashy projects have come at the expense of more urgent needs, including water infrastructure problems in a country increasingly burdened by droughts and Mexico City’s subway system, a key mode of transportation for the sprawling capital’s population of nearly 22 million.
The subway system in Mexico City, the country’s sprawling capital, handles more than four million passengers a day and is the second-largest in the Americas, after New York City’s. And when it was inaugurated in 1969, decorated with Aztec artifacts and Maya-style friezes, it was the pride of a nation.
But in recent years it has become a symbol of urban decay.
There was concern over the integrity of the elevated tracks and support columns on the stretch of tracks where Monday’s accident occurred after a powerful earthquake hit Mexico in September 2017.
The elevated infrastructure on the subway line — known as Line 12, or the Golden Line — was damaged, El Universal newspaper reported.
Later that month, some local residents told El Universal that they feared that the damaged line might collapse. The newspaper reported at the time that a column between the Olivos and Nopalera stations had suffered structural damage. It also reported that engineers were to conduct an ultrasound survey of the reinforcing steel in 300 columns along Line 12’s elevated portion.
It was not immediately clear what work had been done to address the safety concerns. But there has been a broad decline of the system in recent years.
The Golden Line opened in 2012 and is the newest in the system. Yet from the outset, it has been beset by problems.
Trains running over elevated parts of the track had to slow down for fear they might derail. And just 17 months after the $2 billion line was inaugurated, the city suspended service on a large part of it.
Service was later restored, but concerns about the system as a whole have grown.
Last month, one of the capital’s 12 subway lines shut down after a track fire. And in January, a fire ripped through the metro’s downtown headquarters, killing a police officer and sending 30 others to hospitals with smoke inhalation. Six subway lines were temporarily knocked offline.
Opposition parties blamed a lack of maintenance for the inferno, and the conservative National Action Party filed a criminal complaint against Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum and the head of the Mexico City subway.
In March 2020, one person was killed and at least 41 others were injured when two subway trains collided. Ms. Sheinbaum said at the time that one of the trains had apparently backed into the other. Video of the wreckage showed that the force of the collision had left one of the trains stuck on top of the other, according to Reuters.
The next month at the Misterios station, a railway coupler — a mechanism used for joining train cars — fractured en route to its destination. Although that incident resulted in no deaths, workers asked for more safety measures, El Universal reported.
The most recent serious accident occurred in 2015, when a collision between two trains left 12 people dead. In 1975, another train collision at the Viaducto station killed 31 people and left more than 70 injured, according to El Universal.
After the 2015 accident, the German-based company TÜV Rheinland was hired to examine the circumstances that might have caused it and suggest improvements to technology. The company finished its work in 2017 and was not involved in looking into the strength of existing structures, a spokesman said.
“TÜV Rheinland supervised the development of improvement measures to remedy technical problems in systems engineering,” said the spokesman, Jörg Meyer. “Our activities at that time were not related to bridge infrastructure.”
The crash was so sudden, witnesses said, that there was hardly time to scream.
One moment, passengers were zipping along an elevated stretch of track on Mexico City’s Golden Line, and then the floor fell out from beneath them.
“It happened really suddenly,” one woman told the Mexican newspaper El Universal. “I fell into everyone else. Everyone fell into everyone.”
Hernando Manon, was walking home from work when he felt a tremor and heard a loud crash a few hundred yards up the street.
“There was a rumbling and then sparks. The lights went out, and we didn’t know what happened. Then we heard the sirens,” Mr. Manon said. “As we approached, we realized that the subway had collapsed.”
Surveillance footage showed the moment the overpass came crashing down onto the street, sending the train plunging to the ground in a cloud of dust and debris.
“I heard an explosion — we thought it was a stationary gas tank,” one resident, Eduardo García, told Univision Noticias, a Spanish-language media outlet, adding that he had been playing soccer at the time. Mr. García said he had immediately begun running, before seeing several ambulances.
Enrique Bonilla, 57, who was on the train at the time of the crash, told the television network Televisa that he had felt a sudden movement and heard a loud sound as the bridge was collapsing. He said that people had fallen on top of one another, and that he had vomited. Mr. Bonilla was able to grab onto a pole and, afterward, to escape through a broken window, he said, sitting on the ground after the crash.
It was all over in seconds, Mr. Bonilla added. “Thank God I came out alive.”
Hours after the collapse, rescue workers struggled on Tuesday to free people trapped inside the tangle of crushed metal and collapsed concrete, which was all that still stood at the site where the train overpass had crumbled.
Dozens searched carefully through the debris, some using metal ladders to climb through the windows of the train cars to pull people to safety. A number of people were taken from the scene on stretchers as the police, emergency workers and some volunteers worked through the night and into the next day. The rescues had been halted briefly around midnight as the train dangled precariously, but were restarted after it was secured.
A tearful mother, identified only as Elísabet, told the television channel Azteca Noticias that she was searching for her 13-year-old son, who had been out with others in the city center and was on the metro, about to come home. “I spoke five minutes ago with him,” she said between sobs. “He said that he was about to arrive.” She begged the authorities to “give me back my son.”
After the crash, dozens of relatives crowded around the crash site, voicing their frustration to local reporters about not being able to get closer and help get their loved ones out of the debris.
Immediately after the crash, a video showed members of the community, many wearing masks because of the coronavirus pandemic, assisting the injured. Three men could be seen carrying another young man away from the site of the wreckage. Another man hobbled from the scene, bracing himself on another man’s arm.
Others handed out water and baby wipes to help clean the faces of those who had rushed in to help.
Shortly before 2 a.m., the Brigada de Rescate Topos Tlaltelolco said that at least five people remained trapped and that search and rescue workers were using a 200-ton crane to assist their efforts. But a short time later, government’s civil protection authorities indicated that there were no longer people trapped in the rubble.
Images from the scene showed the crane lifting one of the subway cars slightly from the collapsed roadway below to allow emergency workers to continue searching for anyone who was injured or trapped.
Speaking from the scene, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said that one person had been pulled from a car trapped on the roadway below the collapsed rail line. At least 79 injured people had been taken to the hospital.
An eight-second video that captured the moment of collapse showed moderate traffic flowing on either side of the suspended bridge when suddenly it cracked and buckled in a burst of concrete and sparks, falling between the lanes of cars.
Another video taken a few minutes later showed a handful of police officers and volunteers using construction ladders set up against the side of the train to help people down — including several who were hobbling and nearly unable to walk.