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Rescuers Search For Survivors Of Mexico City Subway Collapse

NOEL KING, HOST:

In Mexico City, at least 23 people died and dozens have been hurt after an overpass collapsed onto a busy street while a full subway train was traveling on it. The city's mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, briefed reporters early this morning at the scene of the crash.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

CLAUDIA SHEINBAUM: (Speaking Spanish).

KING: She's saying, "Our main job right now is to take care of all the people who were taken to the hospitals, the victims and their families." Now, that city's subway system is one of the biggest and busiest in the world. And NPR's Carrie Kahn is with us now from Mexico City. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Noel.

KING: What happened?

KAHN: The scene is - it's just horrific. The collapse happened in this above-ground railway portion in a part of the city, not like in the center of the city where the metro is completely underground. And it appears that a concrete girder collapsed, one that holds up the elevated segment of the metro. And the train cars, they just collapsed. They folded into a V shape where they're connected onto a busy boulevard below. And everywhere, there's just twisted wreckage of cables, concrete, electrical wires and these bright orange cars precariously hanging from what's left of the support structure. People were trapped in the cars. You see videos of rescue workers on ladders trying to get to the victims through the windows. A huge crane was brought in to stabilize the cars so more emergency workers could get in there and get the injured out and many dead. The structure is above the median of the busy street below, so luckily not a lot of victims in the roadway were hurt. One person was reportedly pulled from a car on the busy boulevard below. But it was - it's just a horrific, terrifying scene in southern Mexico City.

KING: The Mexico City subway is about 50 years old, I was reading this morning. But this particular line is only 9 years old. Are there any signs as to what happened with the infrastructure here?

KAHN: This is the newest line of this incredibly busy subway. You know, this is the second-largest metro system in North America after New York.

KING: Wow.

KAHN: Tens of millions use it every week. It's crowded a lot. But, you know, we're still in the pandemic, so ridership has been down. But witnesses said that the cars were full and people were standing. And when the crash occurred, they were just thrown around the car. The line was opened in 2012 when the current foreign minister was mayor of Mexico City. It's just too early to say what happened. But that line, even though it was the newest, has had problems. In 2014, it was actually closed for almost, I think, a year. And there was questions about construction. So the accident seems to be caused by this huge concrete structural girder that collapsed. We'll just have to see what the investigation concludes.

KING: Mexico City got hit by a strong earthquake four years ago. I was actually there during some of the aftershocks. It was terrifying. Were there concerns after that about the subway's infrastructure?

KAHN: That earthquake did cause a lot of structural damage in the city. We'll have to see. The mayor was told at the scene by a reporter that neighbors had complained about the girders in the elevated part of the line and that it had shown signs of wear. She reiterated again that a full investigation would be forthcoming. Here she is at that early morning press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SHEINBAUM: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She says now is not the time to speculate as to what happened and that if someone is responsible for this, then they will be held responsible. And as I said, the current foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, a very close ally of the president, was mayor of Mexico City at the time when Line 12 was opened. And he tweeted out this morning that he, too, is in solidarity with all the victims of this terrible tragedy, and he will be at the disposition of all authorities and help in any way he can with investigating the crash.

KING: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Thank you, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.