After a freight truck loaded with as many as 200 migrants toppled over and slammed into the base of a steel pedestrian bridge in southern Mexico, rescue personnel discovered a horrifying sight of death and injuries.
The migrants inside the cargo trailer were hurled, overturned, and crushed into a jumbled mess of the living and dead.
The death toll had risen to 53 by late Thursday, with police reporting that at least 54 others had been injured. It was one of the highest single-day death tolls for migrants in Mexico since the Zetas drug gang massacred 72 migrants in the northern state of Tamaulipas in 2010.
Some migrants struggled and hobbled to remove themselves from the twisted steel sheets of the fallen container, while volunteer rescuers pulled victims off the pile by their arms and legs.
One young guy, crushed in a stack of immobile bodies, wriggled to release the bottom half of his frame from the weight of the dead piled upon him, his face contorted into a grimace of life eluding death’s grasp.
A guy sat by the shoulder of the road, unable to move, blinking his eyes. A stouter and older migrant stood next to him, his eyes no longer needing to be shaded as they gazed, frightened and dead, unblinking, into the fading light.
While the Mexican government is attempting to appease the US by halting caravans of walking migrants and allowing the reinstatement of the “Remain in Mexico” policy, it has been unable to stop the influx of migrants crammed into freight trucks operated by smugglers who charge thousands of dollars to transport them to the US border — trips that all too often end in death.
The most seriously injured, many of whom were dripping with blood, were brought to plastic sheets laid out on the road by their arms and legs. The walking wounded were taken to the same sheets, shocked and oblivious. Ambulances, vehicles, and pickup trucks were rushed into action to transport the injured to hospitals.
The corpses were afterwards spread out on the highway in rows of white sheets, side by side.
Even more migrants were aboard the truck when it crashed, according to rescue personnel who arrived first, and they fled for fear of being captured by immigration officers. Some of them who rushed into nearby areas were bleeding or injured, but nevertheless limped away in their eagerness to flee, according to one paramedic.
Jordán Rodas, Guatemala’s top human rights officer, estimated that some 200 migrants were stuffed onto the vehicle. While frightening, that amount is not uncommon in Mexican migrant smuggling operations, and investigators believe the sheer weight of the cargo, along with speed and a nearby bend, may have thrown the truck off balance.
About 21 of the injured, according to Luis Manuel Moreno, head of the Chiapas state civil defense agency, suffered significant wounds and were evacuated to local hospitals. Three people were badly injured in the incident on a highway running from the Guatemalan border to the Chiapas state capital, according to the federal Attorney General’s Office.
Survivor Celso Pacheco of Guatemala, who was sitting on the street next to the overturned trailer, said the vehicle seemed like it was rushing before losing control under the weight of the migrants inside.
According to Pacheco, the migrants were largely from Guatemala and Honduras, and there were eight to ten little children on board. He stated that he was attempting to enter the United States, but that he was now being deported to Guatemala.
Ambulances rushed victims to three hospitals, each carrying three to four injured, according to Marco Antonio Sánchez, head of the Chiapas Firefighter Institute. He explained that when there weren’t enough ambulances, they put them into pickup trucks.
“I greatly lament the tragedy in Chiapas state,” Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei posted on Twitter. “I express my solidarity with the victims’ families, to whom we will provide all necessary consular help, including repatriation.”
The vehicle had started off as a closed freight module for transporting perishable commodities. The force of the hit shattered the container open. The driver’s fate remained unknown.
Survivors claimed the migrants informed them they boarded the truck near the Guatemalan border in Mexico and paid between $2,500 and $3,500 to be driven to Puebla in central Mexico. They would have undoubtedly hired another group of migrant traffickers to transport them to the US border once they arrived.
Mexican officials have attempted in recent months to prevent migrants from marching in large groups toward the US border, but migrant smuggling has continued clandestinely and illegally.
Authorities in the northern border state of Tamaulipas discovered 652 migrants, mostly from Central America, squeezed into a convoy of six cargo trucks headed toward the US border in October, in one of the greatest busts in recent memory.
Irineo Mujica, an activist spearheading a march of approximately 400 migrants across southern Mexico for about one and a half months, blamed Thursday’s calamity on Mexico’s crackdown on migrant caravans.
After weeks of battling National Guard officers who attempted to obstruct the march, Mujica and his party were nearly on the outskirts of Mexico City. Mujica stated that the group will come to a halt and pray for the deceased migrants.
“Policies that kill us, that murder us, are what lead to tragedies like this,” Mujica explained.
They are, in reality, two distinct groupings. Migrants who lack the thousands of dollars required to pay migrant traffickers are drawn to caravans.
Migrants involved in catastrophic accidents are frequently permitted to stay in Mexico, at least temporarily, because they are considered witnesses and victims of a crime, and Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has stated that it will issue humanitarian visas to the survivors.
The Mexican government would also assist in identifying the deceased and cover burial fees or repatriation of their remains, according to the agency.
Even as his administration has accepted calls from the US government to stop the flow of migrants traveling north, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been frantic to avert mass deaths of migrants.
“It’s quite painful,” he commented about the accident on Twitter.