At least 54 people have died and 105 been injured after a horrific crash in southern Mexico involving a lorry that was reportedly smuggling mostly Central American migrants towards the US.
The disaster – one of the worst to affect migrants in Mexico in recent memory – took place as the vehicle travelled north from Comitán, a town close to the Mexico-Guatemala border, with as many as 200 people crammed into its container.
Shocking video footage of the crash site, near the capital of Chiapas state, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, showed forensic officers surveying a road littered with lifeless bodies as survivors cried out in confusion and despair.
“It was a scene of chaos,” wrote a reporter from Mexico’s El Universal newspaper, describing how injured parents could be heard trying to calm their panicked children.
The Mexican newspaper La Jornada placed a photograph of the wreckage on its front page under a single-word headline: “Tragedy”.
One witness, Sabina López, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) she saw dozens of people screaming in pain, some trapped in the debris and others who were unconscious. “It was horrible to hear the wailing. I just thought about helping,” López said.
Isaías Díaz, who arrived at the crash site about 15 minutes after it happened and helped paramedics treat victims, said: “The crying, the pain, the despair. It was a terrible scene.”
“I saw five, six children who were clearly injured. People with broken legs, ribs, [injured] heads, cuts on their necks,” Díaz told AFP.
According to Mexican media reports the victims included citizens of Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador and Honduras. Of the 105 wounded people, 83 were male and 22 female. Several were children.
Some reports suggested the lorry’s driver had lost control of the vehicle while coming out of a curve at high speed – possibly as a result of the weight of his illegal cargo – and smashed into a foot bridge. Another report claimed the lorry’s brakes had failed. Survivors told local media the driver fled after the crash.
Mexican and US authorities voiced sorrow over the accident, which comes amid a Covid-fuelled surge in migration through Mexico towards the US southern border. “This is so painful,” tweeted Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The US ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, said he was saddened by the “tragic loss of life and injuries”. “Human smugglers disregard human life for their own profit. Please don’t risk your lives to migrate irregularly,” Salazar tweeted.
The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has helped turbocharge the exodus of people from Latin America to the US, with US border agents reporting 1.7m detentions between October 2020 and September this year – the highest number since the 1960s.
The majority of those crossing the border still come from Mexican and the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. But a growing number of migrants and refugees have also been arriving from other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, including them Brazilians, Ecuadorians, Haitians and Venezuelans.